No one was quite sure of how the Cranston East boys volleyball team would fare heading into the 2019 spring season.
The Thunderbolts went undefeated and won the D2 title in 2017, made it to the D2 finals in 2018, and were forced to move up to D1 this year.
Although the Bolts had a shaky start, losing their first four matches, they would catch fire down the stretch of the regular season and win 11 of their last 13, and go on to advance to the semifinals, where they lost to eventual champ, No. 1 Coventry.
“We made the move up to D1 this season so we knew that it would be a tough road. Early on, we were working out some kinks, we were really hoping to just finish around .500 and make the playoffs. The kids worked extremely hard all year, and I think we exceeded anyone’s expectations. We had a great season,” said East coach Meg McGonagle.
Despite the tough start, the Bolts stayed focused, continued to put the work in at practice, and by season’s end, were considered a true contender in Division I.
“We started the season 0-4, took some bumps and bruises, but the turning point in the season came after that when we won (four) in a row. That was the turning point, we came back to beat a few of the teams that we lost to the first time around, teams with good programs and good reputations, that really changed our minds and made us realize that we could really make a run at this,” said McGonagle. “It was getting used to the pace of Division I, it is a much faster game, we also built that team chemistry which helped us put together the right lineup that worked. We were on a roll after that.”
The Bolts will have a new-look roster in 2020, with six seniors graduating this spring. Although McGonagle is optimistic about her young players that will be stepping up, she admits that losing the senior leadership will be tough to overcome in the early going next year.
“I took over this program three years ago, so these seniors are the guys that I started with. They really worked hard; it’s been the same six kids all four years. They won some big tournaments at the JV level and they really stuck together this year. It’s going to be a major loss when these guys graduate,” said McGonagle. “We have four guys coming back, two got to see some playoff action, the others had plenty of practice time. Our JV team pushed pretty far into their tournament … there’s a lot of interest in volleyball in Cranston.”