Saints capture first volleyball crown

Saints capture first volleyball crown

The St. Raphael Academy boys’ volleyball team tells everyone who’s number one after capturing the Division III championship on Monday night at Johnson & Wales University. The Saints defeated the Lions by scores of 25-15, 25-15, 18-25, and 25-16 for the program’s first title in its eight-year existence. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Boys’ volleyball team caps 16-2 season by topping Lincoln in D-III finals, 3-1

PROVIDENCE – After splitting their regular-season series – and eventually sharing the Division III boys’ volleyball regular-season title with 14-2 records – St. Raphael Academy head coach Cory Linhares and Lincoln High head coach Kyle Medeiros knew that if their teams faced each other again in the playoffs, they would have another close battle on their hands.

And both head coaches were right, because on Monday night at Johnson & Wales University’s Wildcat Center, their teams took the court in the Division III championship match.

The Saints, who had won just one match as a Division II team last season, put the finishing touches on their rags-to-riches story by topping the Lions in four sets, by scores of 25-15, 25-15, 18-25, and 25-16, for the program’s first title in its eight-year existence.

“It’s awesome,” said Linhares. “It’s great. I couldn’t want anything more in my first year (as the Saints’ head coach). I’m so proud of the kids. I thank (athletic director) Ray (Tanguay) for hiring me. It’s more than what I wanted. It’s fantastic.”

Both the Saints and Lions had similar stories, having down years in the past in D-II, but suddenly coming together this year in the RIIL’s new nine-team D-III.

While the Saints had been 1-15 a year ago, the Lions were 5-12, but things eventually clicked this spring. In their regular-season meetings, both matches went five sets, with the Saints winning in Lincoln on May 9, 3-2, and the Lions returning the favor in Pawtucket six nights later, 3-2.

Lincoln, which received the top seed, defeated Mount Hope in the semifinals, 3-0, and the Saints, who were the second seed, also blanked crosstown rival Shea, 3-0, to set up Monday’s showdown for all the marbles.

“It’s not the way we wanted (the season) to (end),” Medeiros added. “You can’t get upset when a team goes from 5-12, completely turns it around, and (posts a) 15-3 (record) with only 12 guys; we don’t have a JV team. These guys bust their butts everyday at practice. They show up ready to go, and I can’t be any more prouder of them.”

Nerves played a factor for both teams, who had never appeared in a championship match. It was loud from both sets of fans, and the air conditioner was cranked up.

In the first set, the Saints jumped out to a 7-2 lead and got stronger and more confident with each point they scored. The Lions came back to tie the score at 12-12, but the Saints rattled off the next six points and took off from there.

The Saints cruised through the second set and never trailed in it, but the Lions, with the help from their rousing crowd, kept their focus, dug down, and took the third set, 25-18. The Saints tried to stay in the game and retake it, but that was not to be.

“In the third set of our last match against Shea, we kind of did the same thing,” Linhares said. “I told the kids to ride the wave. There would be ups and downs – that’s why you play five sets and to 25 not to 15. If you ride the momentum the right way, you can take it.”

But after winning the third set, the Lions could not ride the momentum into the fourth. They came out hard, coming back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the score at 6-6. From there it was anyone’s game, as the lead flip-flopped and the service game started to crumble for both teams.

The Saints broke a 10-10 lead by scoring the next three points, and they did everything they could to cling to their lead before breaking away late to win the set by nine points.

The Saints were led by junior Ronnie Williams, who ended the match with seven kills, eight digs, and two aces. Senior setter Mike DiCenzo handed out 29 assists, and senior libero Pablo Uribe added 22 digs.

“I thought our seniors were our backbone all year,” said Linhares, who has 10 seniors on his roster. “They showed up today in the best way possible. Nobody let anybody down. They all played great. Kiki Salako, who’s the third guy on the offense, stepped up big time today and led us in kills when we needed it.”

The St. Raphael Academy boys’ volleyball team won its program’s first championship on Monday night by defeating Lincoln High, 3-1. Receiving the Division III championship plaque during the post-match festivities are, from left, Shawn Hughes, Pablo Uribe, Dominic Sicignano, Garmodeh Willie, and head coach Cory Linhares.