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WOONSOCKET -- The opening game was one to erase from the memory bank. The next three showed why Mount St. Charles is perfect in the Division I-North ranks and could be one of the teams to beat come tournament time in June.
After watching a 24-16 lead evaporate in a first-game loss to La Salle, the Mounties came out for the next game firing on all cylinders and never took their foot off the accelerator in fashioning a 3-1 victory over their visiting rivals.
The Mounties, who are 5-0 and off to their best start since opening the 2011 season with an 8-0 record, dropped a 29-27 decision in what turned into a nailbiter in that first set, but cruised to 25-13, 25-17, and 25-9 victories in the next three.
âFive-and-oh is a great start,â added Mount coach Josh DâAbate. âBut the ultimate goal is not to go undefeated. The ultimate goal is to be there at the end.â
The Mounties certainly werenât there at the end of the first set, which saw them storm out to leads of 5-1, 12-5, and 21-12 before stalling at 24-16.
Thatâs when La Salle (2-3) rode a wave of momentum and rallied for nine straight points that miraculously had the Rams one point away from stealing the game, but the Mounties rose off the canvas to tie the score at 25-25.
From there, both squads battled back and forth for the lead until the Rams took their two-point cushion and the game on a kill by Ronald Gazaryan.
âItâs a little bit of a learning curve,â remarked DâAbate. âThat was the first time we were challenged a little bit. I could have called a timeout, but we practice a lot for a reason, so there wasnât a need to.
âWe didnât get the result we wanted in that game, but I think in (games) two, three, and four, we played pretty well. It was sort of like a wakeup call, telling us, âOkay, we have to play to 25 (points),â and we did.â
The Mounties rolled to victory in the second and fourth games, but in the third, the Rams again put them to the test. With the score tied at 10-10, the Mounties rallied for six of the next seven points to take the lead, and after the Rams fought back to slice their deficit to two (17-15), the hosts responded with the next seven points to take charge of the game.
âI thought La Salle gave us a good challenge,â added DâAbate. âOffensively, they have a couple of great players, and defensively, they passed the ball extremely well tonight. But I was really happy with the way the guys responded tonight. They did a great job.â
The Mounties did an excellent job at the net, receiving superb performances from juniors Chris Lepine (14 kills, two blocks) and Steven Ward (11 kills, three blocks) and freshman standout Jarod Tessier (11 kills), and an exceptional game from senior setter Pat Bennett (45 assists).
Owen Murphy contributed to the assault with eight kills and four blocks, and Tessier (11 digs), Lepine (five aces), and Eli Tousignant (four blocks) added to the stat sheet.
The win also wraps up the first half of the Mountiesâ North schedule. Before they renew acquaintances with their league foes in their last five matches of the regular season, they will play crossover matches against the six teams from the South.
The first of those matches promises to be a difficult one: Mount will host defending state champion Coventry (4-1) tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. The Oakers topped the Mounties in four games in last yearâs semifinals en route to their undefeated Division I title.
âWeâre looking forward to it,â DâAbate said of the matchup. âItâs going to be a good test to see where we are. They came off a tough loss last week to North Kingstown, so Iâm sure that theyâre hungry and they want to prove that theyâre still the team to beat.
âWeâre just going to go out and try to get better each day. If we get the results, we get the results. If not, weâll just try to be there at the end.â
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24