Picking up the pieces

Picking up the pieces

Cumberland juniors Laurel Houle, #19, and Emma Karten, #28, have their sights set on blocking the ball at the net during last Friday night’s loss to Mount Saint Charles. The Mounties won the match by scores of 25-16, 25-16, and 25-16. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Despite suffering big losses to graduation, Cumberland girls’ volleyball squad pursues return to state playoffs

CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland High girls’ volleyball team didn’t get hit hard by graduation during the off-season. The Clippers got flattened by a steamroller.

Six of the top eight players from last year’s Division I-North championship squad, including four with three full seasons of D-I experience, have gone their separate ways, leaving veteran head coach Ruth Plante with just senior Stephanie Erickson back in her lineup and a cast of players with limited or no varsity experience.

“And Stephanie only played the front row last season,” Plante said on Friday night after watching her team suffer a 25-16, 25-16, 25-16 loss to Mount Saint Charles in its third straight home match at the Clippers’ Wellness Center. “Almost everybody else played limited volleyball, and it shows.”

With just two seniors, co-captains and outside hitters Kailey Vinacco and Erickson, on her young roster, Plante used phrases such as “teaching the game” and “gaining experience” when she talked about her Clippers, which fell to 1-2 after their loss to the always-competitive Mounties.

Unfortunately for Plante, she didn’t get to spend as much time as she wanted with her varsity squad during August’s preseason workouts. The program found itself without a junior varsity coach on Plante’s staff, forcing Plante, who welcomed 50 players to her tryouts, to perform double duty with both squads.

She’s leaned heavily on Erickson, who earned Second-Team All-Division honors last year, and Vinacco, who missed nearly three weeks last season with an injury, not only for their play, but also their leadership, and both have done their jobs well.

“They obviously have the most experience,” added Plante. “We’re going to need them to keep the ball in play. They have to better the ball.” As leaders, “They have been very good, especially working and communicating with the younger kids.”

The Clippers, who were bitten a bit by the injury bug last season, saw some of their younger players grab some valuable experience, such as Emily Bennett and Laurel Houle. Now juniors, Bennett is back as a middle hitter, while Houle, who was the JV team’s setter last year, is now the setter on varsity and has handed out more than 20 assists in each of Cumberland’s three games.

Also in the lineup are juniors Emma Karten, Sydney Trudeau, and Allison Raposo and sophomore libero Remy McDermott. Karten has shined as a middle hitter, and McDermott is also the backup setter.

The Clippers captured their season opener on Sept. 1 by blanking Classical by 25-20, 25-21, and 25-17, as Houle keyed the attack with 26 assists and seven aces. But five nights later, they were dealt a 4-1 loss by Coventry, as the Clippers got off to a slow start and lost by scores of 25-15, 25-18, 22-25, and 25-19.

“Coventry’s one of the top teams in the state, and I thought we played pretty well against them,” said Plante, who received 22 assists, five digs, and four blocks from Houle, 13 kills and 13-of-14 serving from Erickson, and six hills and three blocks from Bennett. “We were a little nervous at first, but we got better and better.

“The kids have good attitudes. They have good chemistry, and they get along with each other. But we’re young and inexperienced, so when they get down and they’re playing a really good team, they have to work extra hard to pick themselves up.”

The Clippers, who bused to Providence on Tuesday night to take on La Salle, will head to Wakefield tonight for a 7 p.m. match against the Prout School, which was also one of the top teams in the state last season.

The schedule then gets even more challenging for the Clippers, especially next Tuesday, as they host defending state champion Barrington (and arguably the state’s premier player in junior hitter Maile Somera) in a 6:30 p.m. contest. A four-game road trip that includes long bus rides to Chariho and South Kingstown follows that match.

“We’re definitely going to win some games, and I’m hoping that we’re going to be a good second-half team,” offered Plante. “Our goals are to return to the playoffs, which I think we should be able to do, and to get better every day. Sometimes you have to play good teams early and it hurts you. You just hope that (your players) don’t lose confidence in the process.”

Cumberland High senior outside hitter and co-captain Stephanie Erickson, shown getting ready to serve the ball, delivered nine kills and three aces during last Friday night’s match against Mount Saint Charles. Erickson was a Second-Team All-Division selection who helped the Clippers capture the regular-season championship last season.
Cumberland’s Sydney Trudeau, right, gets ready to bump the ball next to libero Remy McDermott during the third set of the Clippers’ 25-16, 25-16, 25-16 loss to Mount Saint Charles last Friday night at the Clippers’ Wellness Center.