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You often hear the expression â€śwhat a difference a year makes,â€ť particularly when referencing the turnover rate in high school sports. In the case of the respective boysâ€™ volleyball outfits at Tolman and Mount St. Charles, if the shoe fits, wear it.
Last season saw the Tigers and Mounties play at a high level in their respective divisions. Tolman finished the regular season one game behind division winner Barrington before proceeding to go on a magic carpet ride. Head coach Neil Nachbarâ€™s crew rattled off three straight postseason wins, the final one resulting in the Tigers capturing the Division II title courtesy of a 3-1 triumph against the same Eagles outfit that on paper appeared to be the overwhelming favorite.
Over at Mount, the program made a seamless transition to the Division I ranks, winning 11 games before falling to eventual state runner-up South Kingstown in the semifinals. Here it is a year later and both squads are in similar shoes, i.e. forging ahead minus the services of notable and indispensable starters while hoping the few returning holdovers can mesh with a wave of newcomers.
Certainly itâ€™s a challenge, but the hope is that come playoff time, the squads at Tolman and MSC barely resemble the ones taking the floor for the first week of the regular season. Such a distinction will only come through continued improvement. Below is a brief synopsis of what to be on the lookout for in the two divisions:
Usually head coach Josh Dâ€™Abate sets his watch by Mount St. Charles welcoming back multiple all-division selections from the previous campaign. This spring will see the Mounties trot out one player with said distinction. Junior setter Ryan Durand was picked for the third team.
Durand will join forces with Dan Cahaly, a senior outside hitter now in his third season with the varsity. â€śHeâ€™s our anchor, the guy who the offense is run through and the defense has to be set around,â€ť said Dâ€™Abate about Cahalyâ€™s all-encompassing role.
Other than Durand and Cahaly, the Mounties will feature a number of fresh faces. â€śWe have a small team this year. Not having a lot of depth means weâ€™re looking for our top seven guys to play well,â€ť Dâ€™Abate said. â€śWe had a low number of kids at tryouts so weâ€™ve got to see what weâ€™ve got and hopefully we can make it through the season healthy.â€ť
East Providence is a squad to keep an eye on. After enduring the kind of growing pains typically associated with a 3-13 finish, the Townies return just about all of their key personnel. A football and basketball contributor, senior Victor Adewusi is poised to lead E.P. back to its customary perch atop the standings. The Townies last captured the state title in 2008 while making semifinal appearances in 2009 and again the following season.
â€śMy thought is that if they (the Townies) can stay healthy and listen to their coach, they might be the team to beat,â€ť was the endorsement Dâ€™Abate offered. â€ś[Two-time champion] Hendricken looks solid. Down in the south, youâ€™ve always got to look at North and South Kingstown.
â€śI think as a whole a lot of teams graduated a lot of players,â€ť Dâ€™Abate went on. â€śThat happens every year, but I really feel that seems to be the case after hearing what was said at this yearâ€™s coaches meetings regarding many teams losing multiple starters.â€ť
Losing a frontline talent such as Elijah Wiggins to graduation isnâ€™t the only concern confronting Tolman heading in 2012. A player who would have been a senior on this yearâ€™s squad decided not to play while the Tigers saw a pair of young players transfer to neighboring schools â€“ players that Nachbar noted would have had substantial roles had they remained in place.
The Tigers feature just one front row player with varsity experience, such a distinction belonging to 5-foot-10 senior Jeffrey Ramos. â€śHeâ€™s our tallest player,â€ť Nachbar noted. â€śThat tells you how much of a drop-off we have in height.â€ť
Senior Juan Montes was an all-division pick at libero with Nachbar expecting him â€śto be one of the best passers in the division.â€ť After Ramos and Montes, the experience level falls off significantly for the Tigers.
â€śWeâ€™re going to have a couple of guys play positions theyâ€™ve never played before. We have guys who have never played volleyball before,â€ť was the forecast Nachbar offered. â€śItâ€™s going to be quite the learning curve, especially over the first half of the season.
â€śSome of the new players have already shown improvement during the first two weeks of practice,â€ť Nachbar continued.
The Tolman coach expects Barrington to once again be there in the end with Classical another possibility to make some noise. Close to home, Shea hopes to make a significant jump with junior Mike Bonilla and senior Borman Gayetay serving as the main catalysts. Lincoln and North Smithfield are two other squads hoping for better times ahead after a tough 2011.
Thereâ€™s also a new team on the scene as St. Raphael will compete in the same division as Tolman, Shea, North Smithfield and Lincoln.