It was a magical season for the South Kingstown girls volleyball team last year. The Rebels hit some early bumps but began surging late in the year. In the Division I semifinals, they ended North Kingstown’s 90-match win streak, then finished off the memorable ride by beating Prout for the first state championship in program history.

For the 2022 Rebels, that’s a tough act to follow, but there’s hunger for an encore. Not to mention, a lot of good pieces.

“Walking into this gym has been a lot of fun,” new head coach Iain McCoy said. “With losing as many players as they did and with me coming in as a new coach, it’s kind of a clean slate. The energy is there, and there are some great battles for positions. Sometimes as a coach, you try to get players to talk more. That’s not a problem for them. They have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Great camaraderie.”

McCoy is taking the reins after Dan Perry led the Rebels to the title last year. It’s a homecoming for McCoy, who starred for the Rebels for one season when his father was stationed in Rhode Island. He went on to play for URI’s club team and then spent six seasons as an assistant coach for the women’s volleyball program at URI.

“Division I coaching is a dream, so it was very cool to do the sport I love as a profession,” McCoy said. “But it got to a point where I was doing 90-hour work weeks. And I didn’t want to move to North Dakota for my next coaching job. So I decided to take a step back and I’m very fortunate to end up back at SK. It felt like the perfect fit.”

The Rebels lost some major talent from the championship team, including first-team all-stater Carly Tomlinson and second team pick Ava Wentworth. But key returning payers are ready to keep rolling, and they’ll have plenty of help from a youth movement. In addition to the varsity state title last year, South won the junior varsity state championship, and many of those players are moving up. JV coach and varsity assistant Tyler Heroux is staying on staff.

“The stigma that you have here is that kids don’t start playing until they’re 14,” McCoy said. “This team has totally changed my mind on that. Obviously, we have some freshmen who haven’t played before and are learning. But the varsity squad is very, very impressive to me. I came in with low expectations and they’ve blown them out of the water.”

The returning cast is headed by senior setter Natalia McNeal. The second-team all-state selection’s emergence last year coincided with South Kingstown’s rise.

“She’s phenomenal as a player and as a person. I can’t say enough about her,” McCoy said.

The Rebels also have standout hitter Ava Brock and versatile contributor Grace Clark back in the fold.

“They know what it takes to win a state championship, and hopefully we can lean on their experience from playing last year to bring up some of the younger players,” McCoy said. “We have some very good young players coming up.”

In addition to the JV players who are joining the fray, South Kingstown welcomed in exchange student Gaia Copelli from Italy. She will also play setter as the Rebels will likely move to a 6-2 rotation.

It’s a team that has the makings of a contender.

“I want to take it game by game. But I have the utmost confidence in what these young women can achieve,” McCoy said. “We’ll take it one step at a time and hopefully we can get back to where we were last year.”

Skippers start fresh

It was hard to measure how much pressure North Kingstown felt as its win streak rolled on and on and on. If it did have an impact, the pressure is off now as the Skippers embark on a new year with an enthusiastic team that’s ready to write its own chapter.

“The pressure of folks asking about a streak – I think the kids can come in here and breathe a little bit,” head coach Brian Garrepy said.

North’s reign atop the state ended last year when South Kingstown stopped the win streak at 90 matches in the semifinals. Even that night, in the aftermath of the loss, the focus shifted to appreciation for what was accomplished.

“I think [coaches] Kevin Harrington, Corey Maack and I have certainly looked back at that four-year championship run and five year regular season run – it was pretty special,” Garrepy said. “I don’t care who you are or where you are – it’s hard to do, you’ve got to have some luck on your side, you have to have good players. I think we had a chance to reflect and say, ‘That was really cool.’”

Now the focus shifts to what’s next. The Skippers lost two all-staters to graduation but have a solid returning core and plenty of talent coming through the pipeline. And the program’s history isn’t quite so ever-present now that the streak is over.

“Our starting setter Ella Maack was in fourth or fifth grade when that run started,” Garrepy said. “Those stories weren’t really reflective of these kids. They’re here to sort of write their own stories. We always talk about that – worry about what we’re doing now, don’t worry about the past or the future.”

The senior class is led by returning middles Carly Lafferty and Morgan Cheney, who played major roles last year. Jillian Rogers is back on the attack, and McKenzie Lonergan has experience in several spots. Maack is also back after handling setting duties as a sophomore last year.

The returners will try to pick up the slack from Gatorade Player of the Year Abby Ryno and second-team all-state selection Cassidy Cole.

“It’s tough losing Abby and Cassidy, a couple of kids who played a few years on that varsity club,” Garrepy said. “So far, so good. It was a really good first week of practice. We’re definitely having a lot of fun. It’s a young group. There are a couple of sophomores in there and a handful of juniors that will have an impactful role.”

Sydney Henson was a standout on the junior varsity squad last year and will help anchor the defense. PCD transfer Tessa LaFreniere, a sophomore, has a high ceiling. Annie Draper saw some time last year and had a strong club season.

“Just really excited about the group in general,” Garrepy said.

Is there a new streak on the horizon? Maybe, but the D-I race looks open for now.

“I think everything is up for grabs,” Garrepy said. “We have to see where people are in two months.”

Prout hopes to sustain success

With top players graduating and all-stater Ava Grace Dresback transferring out, the Prout volleyball team wants to hold onto the gains of its recent rise even as it enters a bit of a new era this season.

“We have the program going in the right direction,” head coach Andrew Bevilacqua said. “We have a lot of girls who play club volleyball. We have a large freshman class – eight or nine on the JV team. I think our success over the past couple of years has generated some interest. We’re hoping to sustain it.

“Obviously, with the loss of Ava, it makes things a little different but we still have a high expectation that we’re going to go compete every night. We know every night is going to be a battle.”

It’s a challenge but the program has certainly survived worse. Just four years ago, the Crusaders went 0-16. It was a steady climb from there, to six wins then to a semifinal appearance in the spring of 2021. The peak came last fall, when Prout went 12-4 and finished as the state runner-up.

The toll taken by the departures is big. Dresback was one of the best players in the state the moment she stepped on the floor as a freshman, and she was a first-team all-state player last year as a sophomore. A Connecticut resident who commuted to Prout, she transferred back to Stonington High School in her home district this year. Prout also lost fellow first-team all-stater Josie Gustavson and setter Mia Slade.

The work ethic, program identity and enthusiasm remain in place, with or without the standout players who helped set the course.

“We’re on the younger end as a team this year,” Bevilacqua said. “We have some growing up to do, and hopefully we’ll do it pretty quickly. But as a coaching staff, we’re pretty confident in the girls we have. A lot of them play club. They’ve come in ready to go and they know it’s going to be a team effort every night.”

And there’s still some experience in the fold. Paige Megley and Emily Jacques manned the middle last season and will anchor the attack this year. Sydney DeCarvalho also saw some time on the right side last year and will be a primary weapon outside this year.

A good sophomore class should yield plenty of contributors.

“Practice is going well,” Bevilacqua said. “The girls are working hard. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a rebuilding year. Maybe more of a re-tooling year.”

With inexperience dotting the lineup, ball control will be a major focus.

“I think the biggest key for us is going to be serve-receive and how well we can pass the ball,” Bevilacqua said. “I think we’re going to have a really tough serving team. In terms of serve-receive, Ava took up a lot of the court and passed a lot of balls last year, as did Josie. The hope is some of the sophomores and Sydney can pick up where they left off. Early in the season, it’s going to be about can we pass the ball and get the offense going or are we going to be playing out of system a lot.”

The Crusaders are in a rugged sub-division of D-I, alongside South Kingstown, North Kingstown and La Salle, but that challenge may actually serve them well.

“We’re in that division with North Kingstown, South Kingstown and La Salle, so the first five games and the last five games are really going to be a beneficial for us,” Bevilacqua said. “Because it’s going to be a battle every night. I think the entire season is going to be a fight every game and we’re going to see how resilient and how mentally tough we can be. The goal is to the playoffs. We’ll be battle tested and hopefully we can make a deep run.”

Mariners back to D-III after title run

The new banner on the wall is certainly a point of pride for Narragansett, but it’s also serving as a reminder of what it takes to succeed as the Mariners embark on a new challenge this year.

“As a team, it’s an exciting moment when you’re able to come back into the gym the next season and see your championship banner added to the wall,” head coach Abby Hummel said. “But as coaches when we think about being in a new division after losing nine seniors, we know it’s time to get to work. We know we will be facing new teams and it will be challenging. The schedule is a lot tougher than last season but we will take it one game at a time.”

The Mariners steamrolled through the competition last fall when they moved to the newly-created Division IV. A veteran squad went undefeated in the regular season and surged to the first volleyball championship in school history.

The graduation losses were significant, and the younger group now on the court is set to move back to Division III. It’s a move that makes sense for the program; Narragansett was head and shoulders above most of its competition in D-IV. But it will be an adjustment for this group.

“So far we are proud with the effort and skills we’ve seen at practices. We are focused on fundamentals and building a positive team culture,” Hummel said. “We haven’t committed to lineups just yet, we are still testing out some ideas. Losing the nine seniors and only having three seniors return has us scrapping last year’s thoughts and completely rebuilding.”

There are four players who played big roles for last year’s championship team. Kylee Bennett was a standout server and defensive specialist who is set to move to libero. Senior Lexa Michailides returns at the setter position. Ally Tuoti was a starting outside hitter who is set to lead the attack at the net. Clare Oberheu is also back at an outside spot after a solid year, particularly at the service line.

Bennett, Michailides and Samara Sahagian are the three seniors. Other potential contributors are juniors Sophia Bianco, Eris Hughes, Zaharra Andersson and Abby Philbin, and sophomores MacKenzie Gallagher and Eliana Sahagian. Freshman Scarlett Massey is also in the fold.

“We are asking a lot of the upperclassmen to step up in a big way,” Hummel said. “We also are looking to swing up to the varsity level from the freshman and sophomore class to help fill gaps and are happy to say that the talent level in key missing pieces is there.”

The hope is to keep the program moving in the right direction and build on last year’s excitement.

“We have high expectations and look forward to building upon a winning season and growing the game of volleyball in our community,” Hummel said.

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