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HIGH-SCHOOL

How Barrington boys volleyball went from saving the program to champions in four years

Jacob Rousseau
Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE — Barrington boys volleyball was facing extinction four years ago.

Program numbers were diminished by the pandemic, but preserved by a new freshmen class that was learning on the fly in Division II. That 2021 season went as expected, with just one win for the Eagles.

But thankfully, Barrington wasn’t discouraged and returned the next spring under their coach, Christian Lambert. They tallied an additional seven wins the following year and made the playoffs, but rebuilding was still a process.

“It really is just the greatest group of friends I could ever ask for,” Barrington’s Sang Min Park said. “We've grown so close and going through all the struggles, starting off with a one-win season and then slowly, we got better and better every year.”

Barrington snagged the top seed in the playoffs last year but was upset by eventual-champion Lincoln in the semifinals. The loss changed the mindset for the seniors in their final year. They didn’t have to be perfect, but instead accept the mistakes as they come and rally behind each other.

In their final season, the freshmen that saved the program, brought second-seeded Barrington (15-3) its first boys volleyball championship with a 3-1 (19-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-22) win over No. 1 Cranston West (14-4) on Friday night at Rhode Island College’s Murray Center.

“COVID struck a plague on the program and coming back after with three guys and then grabbing 10 of these freshmen,” Lambert said. “Throwing them out to the lions and just putting them through the wringer and they never wavered. They wanted to play the game, they wanted to learn how to play better and they fell in love with the game. Here we are now, full circle, four years later, winning a championship with that same group of freshmen.”

Sang Min Park (6) and Cam Kelley celebrate Barrington's volleyball championship.

Barrington didn’t sweat after dropping the first set to a team they lost to twice during the regular season. The Eagles had already left the program in a better spot than they found it with four sophomores on the 11-person roster waiting for their turn.

“We just talked about having a good time,” Cam Kelley said of the first-set intermission. “Just treat it like any other game. We've been stressing this all season, but if you aren't having fun, what are you doing?”

Barrington upped its play in the second set as the Eagles equalized the match with on 5-0 and 6-0 runs. They opened a 21-18 advantage in the frame on Max Oberacker’s ace that nicked the top of the net before falling to the floor.

“This is such an unexpected group of guys,” said Jimmy Ciummo, who had 11 kills. “In school you wouldn't expect this group of kids to come together, but over the past four years we’ve really grown as a team.”

“We're more than just teammates,” said Kelley, who managed a team-high 16 kills. “We've become the best of friends and this is a great way to kind of cap off our high school years.”

Barrington's Cam Kelley (19) and Max Oberacker combine for a block during Friday's match against Cranston West.

Earlier this year:Barrington boys volleyball opens the season with a new outlook after last year's upset

Needing to win two more sets against a Falcons team that earned seven straight sweeps during the season, Barrington opened the third frame with a 7-1 lead. Cranston West closed that gap behind its star outside hitter, Chris Harvey, for a 23-all set. But Kelley returned and won the next two points, the first on a kill after Barrington dug out a spike and the second was a set-winning ace.

“[Dedication] sums it all up,” Lambert said. “These kids are in the gym a half hour before they need to be and they're begging me to stay. I want to go home, but they're begging me to stay, so we stay. Dedication is absolutely the right word.”

The fourth set had five lead changes including a tie at 20-all before Ciummo flicked a kill into space with an accurate touch. Ciummo and Kelley blocked Cranston West for a 2-point lead that forced a timeout.

“It was the ultimate moment where we just kind of let loose,” Park, who finished with 46 assists, said of entering the match. “We said there’s nothing to lose. We didn't make it this far last year, we're here now and we might as well swing away and play as free as possible and just have fun with it.”

Cranston West's Christopher Harvey watches as his spike eludes a Barrington defender.

After trading the next four points, Park had the final serve as Cranston West’s return was blocked by Oberacker and Kelley.

“It means everything, doing it with my friends,” Ciummo said. “It's such a great part of high school just playing sports with your friends.”

Barrington, which began its program in 2009, reached the D-II title game in 2011 and 2012, but finished runner-up both seasons. Cranston West finished runner-up for the second straight year.

jrousseau@providencejournal.com

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