EPHS girls' spikers eagerly return to the court

COVID-delayed Division I volleyball season starts this week

By Mike Rego
Posted 3/15/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — Like so many of their fellow athletes, the members of the East Providence High School girls’ volleyball program are simply pleased to have an opportunity to return to …

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EPHS girls' spikers eagerly return to the court

COVID-delayed Division I volleyball season starts this week

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Like so many of their fellow athletes, the members of the East Providence High School girls’ volleyball program are simply pleased to have an opportunity to return to the court as restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic remain, though are seemingly beginning to relax as protocols are better understood and vaccines become more readily available.

Their usual season postponed from the fall to what the Interscholastic League has dubbed “Spring 1,” the Townies, led by head coach Alex Butler and assistance Dan Cabral, will finally return to the court this week for an abbreviated, though appreciated, Division I season.

They’ll do so with COVID health and safety restrictions similar to those implemented throughout the 2020-21 term still in place. The players will wear masks during matches. Hand sanitizers are at the ready. Practices are being done in pods with varsity and junior varsity players split. Air purifiers are running full bore. Windows in the near 70-year-old EPHS gym are open when practical, depending on weather.

“It’s different but I’ll take it and we’re happy to just be practicing,” Butler said earlier this week prior to the Townies’ season-opening match against South Kingstown. “It’s different in the sense that we don’t have everyone together like we usually do. The girls are split between varsity and junior varsity in two separate pods. We have no more than 16 kids in gym at a time.

“It’s interesting for me because I get to work a lot more with the younger kids. I think we’re getting more accomplished in practice. Dan and I are able to split up the kids by position, work more closely with kids individually. I think it’s a more creative way to do practice, and I think the kids are benefitting.”

Twelve teams comprise Division I this season. Sides will play the other 11 once each. East Providence, Butler said, was fortunate to have scheduled six home matches and five on the road. The top eight finishers in the standings will qualify into the league playoffs. The regular season is slated to conclude on April 23. Three rounds of the postseason — quarterfinals, semis and final — are expected to run one week starting on April 26.

Of the safety protocols and the season in general, Butler said, “There’s a lot that’s gone into it with myself and Dan just trying to make sure girls are sage. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure the kids can complete season.”

The Townies, who last played in the fall of 2019, are coming off their least successful season in some three decades. East Providence finished with a 4-11 record and missed the Division I playoffs for the first time since at least 1989, if not longer, Butler noted.

Butler, who has been either an assistant or head coach with the program for the better part of the last two decades, called the 2019 the “toughest” of his career. Injuries and the relative lack of experience at the varsity level of his team took their toll, he said, adding by the end of the year three sophomores and a freshmen were four of the six regulars.

“We took our lumps. Division I is unforgiving. No one is going to take easy on you,” Butler continued. “The girls fought hard, but youth and inexperience do not lend themselves to success. So, now, fast forward and it’s been a year-and-a-half since we’ve played. We’ve got some of them back together. The kids are older, but I have a lot of multi-sport athletes and a lot them have touched a volleyball in a long time, which makes things interesting.”

Returning to the squad from the 2019 varsity roster are senior middle hitter Kianna Hepburn, senior defensive specialist Aileen Charron, senior outside hitter Skylah Chakouian, senior defensive specialist Hailey Martins, junior right side hitter Bree Riel, junior libero Hayley Lonergan, junior opposite side hitter Sophia Patterson, junior setter Katherine Whitaker and junior opposite hitter Brookelyn Feola. Juniors Elke Jones (right side hitter) and Haylee Cox (defensive specialist) move up from JV. Sophomore new to the mix are middle hitter Ryleigh Grant, opposite side hitter Keira Quadros and setter Emma Nordquist.

Patterson returns to the fold after missing all of 2019 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee. One key player expected back, but who will miss 2021 is senior and supposed starter at right side hitter Abigail Caldeira. She suffered a freak hand injury as practice began two weeks ago, which will force whom Butler called his “best blocker” to the sidelines for the entire abbreviated season.

The coach was non-committal to a potential starting six, but said he has a “group in mind, but we’re not married to anything.” Another difference from so-called “normal” years, Butler continued, is that the Townies will have no preseason Injury Fund matches, no practice scrimmages with opponents or non-league outing all in the name of health and safety.

“We’re going with what we see in practice,” Butler added. “For us, we’re trying to make sure our team is getting better every day. The girls are working hard. They’re focused and determined.

"Of course we want to win every match we play and make the playoffs, but we’re just trying to make sure we complete the season, be competitive and have some fun because a lot of fun has been taken out of the world over the last year. Even though they’re wearing masks, I can see it on the kids' faces that they’re excited to be back on the court. They’re together and playing volleyball again and having fun. That’s what we’re focusing on right now.”

After traveling to South Kingstown for the season opener on Thursday, March 18, East Providence will play its first home match of the 2021 season on Tuesday, March 23, against rival LaSalle. The contest starts at 6:30 p.m.

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