Ponaganset girls' volleyball team nets first win, downs Northmen

Ponaganset girls' volleyball team nets first win, downs Northmen

Ponaganset junior Emma Gearing gets ready to deliver a serve during the third set of last Thursday night’s Division II match at North Smithfield High. The Chieftains picked up their first win by netting a 3-1 triumph. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Chieftains get on track in D-II after suffering three five-set losses

NORTH SMITHFIELD – When the Ponaganset High girls’ volleyball team took the court for its Division II match against North Smithfield High last Thursday night on the Northmen’s campus, the Chieftains were not only playing on the road for the third time in as many nights, but they were also 24 hours removed from their third five-set loss in the last six days.

But the Chieftains showed no signs of wear and tear in picking up their first victory of the young season. Led by senior outside hitter Elayna Remick’s 11 kills, 16 digs, and four aces, Ponaganset came away with a 3-1 triumph that saw the visitors prevail by scores of 25-18, 24-26, 25-17, and 25-22.

“We’ve been getting better every single match,” said Ponaganset’s second-year head coach, Diane Short. “We’re playing more consistent now, our defense is better, and we’re communicating better.”

The Chieftains, who are down in D-II for the first time since 2005 after winning just five times during the 2018 and 2019 seasons in D-I, saw this season get off to a difficult start, and that’s not just because they kicked off their schedule with 3-2 losses to Johnston, Burrillville, and Exeter/West Greenwich.

“We had to quarantine for a week, so we didn’t have a lot of opportunities to practice,” Short added. “I had been emailing them some stuff (during the quarantine), but I give them credit because they’ve been making adjustments on the fly.”

The toughest loss of the three may have been the Chieftains’ season opener at home against Johnston on March 26. Up 2-0, Ponaganset seemed to run out of gas the rest of the way and suffered an ugly 15-6 defeat in the fifth and deciding set.

“The first match, I thought we were a little out of shape,” noted Short, who had spent 25 seasons as the head women’s coach at Brown University before retiring and continuing her coaching career in the RIIL. “We got tired, we were playing a long time, and we started making mental mistakes.”

The loss to Burrillville was a thriller through four sets, but the Broncos came away with a 23-25, 25-23, 26-24, 24-26, 15-8 victory. And in the defeat to EWG, Ponaganset led after three sets (19-25, 25-23, 25-20), but EWG won the match by capturing the next two by scores of 25-9 and 15-11.

In last Thursday’s victory, the Chieftains took charge in the first and third sets, but the Northmen, who were led by junior middle hitter Laura Matchett and senior captain Meaghan Marcoux, captured a tight second set by scoring four of the final five points.

In the fourth set, which saw neither side hold more than a three-point lead, the Chieftains snapped a 2-2 tie behind the service of junior Emma Gearing. Junior outside hitter Lilly Davies scored the 24th point by dropping a spike between two players, and senior middle hitter Danielle Cook sealed the ‘W’ with a kill.

“It shows what kind of team this is,” added Short. “They keep fighting all the way through.”

When asked about her players having to battle for the third straight night on the road, “They felt pretty good,” answered Short. “I think when it’s a match, they have that adrenaline going a little bit. It’s a little different than practice.”

While Remick highlighted the stat sheet with her excellent performance, sophomore setter Abigail Reall also dished out 14 assists and Cook quietly played a strong match up front.

“Our middles just better the ball so well, and they do a lot of nice things that people don’t notice,” said Short, who also received a solid game from senior outside hitter-turned-libero Hannah Merson.

The Chieftains, who enjoyed a little break after that victory and were scheduled to play host to Chariho on Wednesday night, will also entertain West Warwick on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Senior outside hitter-turned-libero Hannah Merson, whose ponytail matches her team’s colors, gets ready to receive a serve during last week’s match.