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Tolman spikers begin defense of Div. II title

June 6, 2012

Veteran head coach Neil Nachbar (left) and his defending Division II champion Tolman High boys' volleyball team have a quarterfinal bout against West Warwick on Friday at 6 p.m. at Tolman’s James W. Donaldson Gymnasium.

PAWTUCKET -- Last spring, Tolman High finished the season as it hoped it would — as Rhode Island Division II champions.
It nevertheless wasn’t easy, as it had to manufacture come-from-behind victories over Pilgrim in a quarterfinal, Cranston West in a semifinal and finally Barrington, 3-1, in the championship match.
Head coach Neil Nachbar promised the road to defending that crown will be much more difficult, and – for the Tigers – it all begins with a quarterfinal bout against West Warwick, a 3-0 opening-round winner over Mount Pleasant on Wednesday night. That pairing will face off at Tolman’s James W. Donaldson Gymnasium at 6 p.m., Friday.
West Warwick landed the No. 3 South ranking with an 11-5 record.
(Actually, North Smithfield, the North’s third seed, upended Toll Gate, 3-0, on Tuesday night and will battle Cranston West, with the South’s No. 2 ranking, in another quarterfinal slated for 6 p.m., Friday).
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” offered Nachbar, whose club went 14-2 in the North (16-3 overall). “That’s a team we scrimmaged during the season, and we lost, 3-1, down there. They have a very tall and talented hitter who plays on the right side (junior co-captain Jesse Lawrence), and he presents some matchup problems for us.
“He’s about 6-3, and there aren’t too many strong lefties in the league. That, in itself, is an unusual look. Lawrence is very athletic, and he has the height we haven’t seen too much of this year. We’re just going to have to be very aware of where he is at all times, and we’re going to have to make it as difficult as possible for them to get him the ball.
“If we can force them into some errant passes, that would make it very challenging for them to put him in a good position to hit,” he added. “On the positive side, we’re playing our best volleyball of the season, so we’re peaking at the right time. I really think we’re playing well as a team, and we’re doing as well as we could’ve expected this year. We’re clicking well on offense, and really executing our plays.”
Nachbar insisted his team must post solid numbers in the blocking department. Junior Tyler Harry led the squad in blocks with 37.
“The blocks have to be there; that’s been our greatest weakness so far,” he noted. “We don’t have to get a ton, but we do need a few just to force them to think about the block.”
He also indicated the tourney is about as strong as any he’s seen in D-II. Pilgrim, who rolled through II-South action with a perfect 16-0 record and earned the No. 1 seed, will host the victor of the North’s No. 4-seed, Central, and the South’s No. 5 seed, Scituate; and Barrington, who finished 16-0 in the North to draw that top ranking, will host the winner of Exeter/West Greenwich (South-No. 4) and Classical (North-No. 5).
“Barrington and Pilgrim both were undefeated this year (in league), and we lost to both, so this road will not be easily traveled,” he said. “We also defeated both of them last year in the quarters and the finals, so they’ve got a score to settle.
“To defend the title, we must have some balance on offense,” he continued. “We had two players pretty much carry us offensively this season. Jeff Ramos, a senior, had 260 kills to lead the team, and (junior) Marquis Swinson finished with 178. Jeff’s 260 is the third highest total of any Tolman player over the 15 years we’ve been a varsity program, so we’re going to need other players to contribute. We can’t have to rely so heavily on just two guys.
“Barrington and Pilgrim are very strong, and they don’t have too many weaknesses. I thought they clearly were the top two teams in our division. Barrington swept us in both matches, and Pilgrim beat us, 3-1, but I still think it’s be a great tournament. There are several good teams with a legitimate shot to take the championship.”
He deemed North Smithfield as one, as he called senior Trevor Johnson a premier hitter.
“He can be a little erratic at times, but – when he gets a hold of the ball – he really can put it away,” he mentioned. “North Smithfield is having one of the best seasons in a long time, so it can do some damage.”
Another key for the Tigers will be senior Juan Montes, who registered a school record 332 digs (eclipsing the mark held by former standout Ricky Frechette in 2000.
“I know hitting certainly raises the eyebrows of those people watching, but our best player this year has been our passer, Juan,” Nachbar said. “The amount he had was nearly 100 more than the previous record (239), and that was held for 12 years. Juan’s passing will be critical. He’s had at least 20 (digs) in virtually every match we’ve played this season, and he makes tough plays look easy.
“Like all tournaments, the one who stands through it all will be the one who makes the fewest errors. We’ll see what happens. It’s definitely going to be interesting.”

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