North­men play for spot in fi­nal

Un­de­feated East Green­wich awaits North Smith­field

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By BRANDEN MELLO bmello@woonsock­et­

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.”

File photo by Ernest A. Brown

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...

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