Mount's back for more

Mount's back for more

Mount Saint Charles junior Jill Parker, #12, taps the ball between two Cumberland High players in front of teammate Emma Picard during the second set of the Mounties’ 25-16, 25-16, 25-16 victory last Friday night at the Clippers’ Wellness Center. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Hitters, libero, back row return for talented MSC girls' volleyball team

CUMBERLAND – Since moving up to the state’s top division after capturing the Division II title in 2009, the Mount Saint Charles Academy girls’ volleyball team has appeared in the Division I semifinals in six of the past seven Novembers, only to fall short in each bid to reach the finals.

But judging by the talent coming back from last fall’s team, as well as the Mounties’ play in their first two games of the season, could this be the year that the Mounties not only return to the Final Four, but also finally break through and play for a state championship?

“I don’t know if it’s too early to start talking about that stuff,” veteran head coach Josh D’Abate said after watching his team net its second win of the young season, a 3-0 triumph over Cumberland High at the Clippers’ Wellness Center. “That’s definitely something that every team wants to reach for. You want to be there at the end. But I think we’re off to a good start and we have the potential to play at a really high level. We’re definitely a work in progress, but I like what we’ve seen in practice and I like what we’ve seen in all our games.”

Unfortunately for the Mounties, Coventry put a dent into their good start on Monday night when the two longtime rivals met at Mount’s gymnasium. The Oakers overcame an opening-game loss and used a late comeback in the second game to post a 19-25, 25-22, 25-14, 25-10 victory that improved their record to 3-0.

During the offseason, the Mounties graduated four seniors from a team that was one of the program’s youngest in a number of seasons, yet overcame a slow start to post an 11-7 record that was two games behind Cumberland in the battle for the Division I-North title.

Coming back from that team are three All-Division players who are playing in their third varsity seasons: senior libero Maggie Bouckaert, a Third-Team All-Stater, who along with senior middle hitter Haley McCreight, earned First-Team honors, and senior middle hitter Paige Fitzpatrick, who was a Second-Team selection.

And speaking of hitters, the Mounties have their fair share, with seniors Riley Mulligan and Jill Parker and junior Isa Miller, and, “as much as we have all our hitters back, I think more importantly, we have every girl that played (in the) back row back from last year,” offered D’Abate, who saw seniors Arley Imbimbo and Brooke Donatelli and junior Katie Champagne play well in the win over Cumberland. “Hitting’s great, but it really doesn’t go anywhere unless we’re passing well.”

If there was one question mark the Mounties had at the beginning of the season, it came at the setter position. For the second season in a row, they’ve had to replace an All-State setter, but this year, D’Abate may have found two standouts in juniors Meghan Valentine and Emma Picard, who have allowed the team to run an effective 6-2 offense.

“Meghan and Emma have done a nice job in practice, and they afforded us the opportunity to do different things that we’ve quite honestly never done before,” said D’Abate. “We’ve never run a 6-2 in the 16 years that I’ve been coaching the girls here, but it’s worked for us in our matches. I think it’s more of a testament to what our defense is doing, letting our setters get good touches on that second ball, and more importantly, what our hitters are doing. They’re getting off the net in good transition and they’re making themselves available to attack the ball, and sometimes, that’s tough to do when you’re not used to doing something you’ve never done before.”

Before August turned into September, the Mounties played East Providence High in an Injury Fund matchup, and even though they lost in five games, “we competed in all five games, especially the girls who were coming off the bench,” added D’Abate. “That’s only going to help us at the beginning of this season.”

The Mounties’ season opener on Tuesday, Sept. 5, was also a five-set thriller, but they managed to hold off Ponaganset and All-State senior outside hitter Abby Remick by scores of 25-18, 25-17, 23-25, 25-27, and 15-9. McCreight led the attack with 16 kills and 10 blocks, Fitzpatrick and Miller each belted nine kills, Picard handed out 30 assists, and Bouckaert added 24 digs.

In the victory over the Clippers, which the Mounties won by three scores of 25-16, McCreight again shined at the net with nine kills and seven blocks and Picard and Valentine teamed up to dish out 22 assists.

The Mounties will have a tough test awaiting them tonight when they visit North Kingstown in a 6:30 p.m. game.

“North Kingstown was super competitive last year and lost in the finals,” reported D’Abate. “They have everyone back from last year and a bunch of young kids coming in, and I think they only graduated two or three players. You can’t really ask for matches that are tougher than that at the start of a season.”

A rematch with the Chieftains is also on the Mounties’ schedule near the end of the month, and a match on Oct. 20 at home against defending state champion Barrington highlights what promises to be a challenging October.

Maggie Bouckaert