Northmen play for spot in final
Undefeated East Greenwich awaits North Smithfield
NORTH SMITHFIELD — Coach Brian Burnham and his No. 2 North Smithfield girls volleyball team are hoping for a long match tonight in East Providence.
The Northmen are back in the Division II semifinals for the second straight season, and they’re prepared for another long night on the court. The Northmen are just 1-1 in three-game matches, but they’ve accrued a 9-4 record in matches that go at least four games.
“We would like to start matches a little quicker,” said Burnham, alluding to the fivegame comeback win over Portsmouth in the quarterfinals last week. “If you look at how we’ve been the whole season, we’ve only had two matches that went three games. That tells me that we’re always learning to adjust in the middle of matches.
“That’s what we had to do against Portsmouth. Coming back after losing the first two games is incredible It showed a lot of fortitude from the girls to come back.”
Tonight’s opponent at East Providence High at 7:30 is the No. 1 seed from Division II-South, East Greenwich. Unlike the Northmen, the Avengers haven’t spent much time on the court. The undefeated Avengers won their last nine regular-season matches by sweep and they’ve only played 50 games to North Smithfield’s 66.
Burnham and volunteer assistant coach Jim McGee made the long trek down I-95 on Friday to watch the Avengers defeat No. 5 Scituate in four games. Burnham was particularly impressed with the size of coach Justin Amaral’s middle hitters and the power of outside hitter Vivian Goulet.
Middle Hope Votta and Maeve Meiser took advantage of Scituate’s mistakes, which puts pressure on North Smithfield middles Lauren Murphy and Morgan Kruzan to be smart with how they attack.
“It wasn’t great volleyball, but they do have some tall girls in the middle and a good outside hitter,” Burnham said. “We were prepping our team yesterday on how to deal with big blockers and how to get around them and how to cover our hitters. We noticed they blocked balls straight down, so we have to make sure we get underneath those.”
Burnham said the key to his team’s success – the Northmen enter tonight’s contest with a 10-5 record – is serving. Burnham said North Smithfield needs to keep at least 85 percent of its serves in play to have a chance to stop the Avengers from setting up a potential undefeated clash with reigning champion Cranston East in Saturday night’s final.
Another big factor is passing, which means libero Rebecca Majeau and outside hitters Hope Trowbridge and Alyssa Murray are responsible for keeping the Northmen in system.
“Passing is going to be a big key,” Burnham said. “They have to keep the setters off the net because any overpass against a tall team like that, the ball is coming back down. [EG] didn’t hit any of those balls, they were very smart. They just tipped the ball straight down.”
While East Greenwich is in search of its second title in the last four seasons, North Smithfield is trying to reach the Division II title match for the first time since 1987.
Lorenza O’Donnell and the Northmen were on the precipice of the final last season, but the Northmen scored just 46 points in a sweep at the hands of Scituate at Rhode Island College.
Burnham said he likes that tonight’s semifinal will be played in a high school gym because that’s where the Northmen are used to playing.
“Being in that big gym with the bright lights and the big crowd just got to the kids,” Burnham said. “We think coming to a high school gym is going to be a little easier for us. Plus, we have a different group of girls who interact differently with each other. This year, we’ve gone to a lot of four- and five-game matches, so we can hold our ground and play.
“I think the girls are confident going into the match. If we play the game I know we can play, we’re going to hold our ground against them.”
North Smithfield has reached the Division II semifinals for the second straight season thanks to a strong resolve. Heading into tonight’s match with No. 1 East Greenwich, the No. 2 Northmen have played at least four games in 13 of 15 matches. Their record is 9-4 in those matches.