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COVENTRY ‚ÄĒ The three-time defending Division II champion Exeter-West Greenwich girls volleyball team are doing a little rebuilding after graduating a number of talented players.
Of course, the rebuilding should go pretty smoothly with second-team All-State middle hitter Jennifer Donnelly back for her junior campaign. Donnelly and fellow middle hitter Jenna Bridges form the most menacing middle duo in II-South and give coach Josh Bednarczyk a solid platform to build this season‚Äôs team.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre young with a lot of inexperience,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said before his team played reigning state champion Coventry and II-South rival West Warwick in the Injury Fund last week at Coventry. ‚ÄúThere are a lot of girls who have to step up and play some big roles for us this year.‚ÄĚ
The Knights showed that inexperience in matches against Coventry‚Äôs starting lineup and a match against Coventry‚Äôs backups. After struggling against the Oaker backups, the Knights struggled to pass the ball against Coventry‚Äôs varsity starters.
But, the Injury Fund is just the first step in what the Knights hope is the long journey back to Keaney in November. As Bednarczyk point out, EWG doesn‚Äôt always play its best volleyball in September, but the Knights seem to find a way to play championship volleyball in November.
‚ÄúThe biggest thing is learning the game right now,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre young and we need to stay focused and progressing as the year goes on. That‚Äôs what we‚Äôve been able to do the last few years. We need to do that again.‚ÄĚ
EWG‚Äôs biggest advantage over the rest of II-South will be in the middle where Donnelly and Bridges both reside. Both girls are over six foot tall, but while Donnelly is a seasoned varsity starter, Bridges, a sophomore, is still learning the game on the varsity level.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre both tall and athletic, but Jenna‚Äôs still young and she has a lot of learning to do,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôs making progress, but there‚Äôs still plenty of progress left to go.‚ÄĚ `
The Knights are likely to rely on Donnelly early in the season while the rest of the team adjusts to the varsity level, but Bednarczyk said relying on the All-Stater too much could hurt the Knights later in the season.
‚ÄúI think we want to stay pretty balanced,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said. ‚ÄúIf you focus on getting the ball to one girl then the other team can focus on her and take her out of the match. We need everyone on the floor to contribute. We have 12 girls on varsity right now and we need all 12 to contribute for us.‚ÄĚ
Lauren Unsworth will be one of the hitters Bednarczyk hopes can supplement Donnelly. The junior will be one of the starting outside hitters. The other outside hitter will come from a group of four underclassmen. Bednarczyk said whoever doesn‚Äôt start outside while still have a chance to start on the right side or in the back row.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs pretty good competition for the other spot outside,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre looking at three or four girls who are competing for that spot and also the right-side spot so we can complete our lineup.‚ÄĚ
Along with outside hitter, the setter spot is still up for grabs. Senior Morgan Iannuccilli and junior Mikaela Vivian are competing for the job. Bednarczyk could run a 6-2 system and use both girls as starters or he could chose one and run a 5-1.
‚ÄúRight now we have two setters and I‚Äôm not sure how that‚Äôs going to work out,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said. ‚ÄúWe might be running a 5-1 or a 6-2, but we‚Äôre still trying to figure those things out.‚ÄĚ
The Scarlet Knights started the season Tuesday night against the weakest team in the division last year, Scituate, before a big showdown Friday night against Narragansett, one of the two teams to beat the Knights last year.
Bednarczyk knows the division will be tough with East Greenwich returning All-State setter Phoebe Wong and Cranston West and Narragansett returning plenty of talent.
‚ÄúWest Warwick, Cranston West, East Greenwich are all good teams. It‚Äôs a nice division,‚ÄĚ Bednarczyk said. ‚ÄúThere are good teams in the division. Narragansett has Gabby (Leclerc) back. EG was young and strong last year. We just need to keep working hard and keep progressing.‚ÄĚ