Patriots overcome loss of coach to ace the season

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Coventry - posted Tue., Nov. 22, 2011
The Coventry High School girls' volleyball team celebrates after an Oct. 25 victory against East Lyme. Contributed photo. - Contributed Photo

If it hadn’t been a very good season, everyone would have understood. The Coventry High School girls’ volleyball team lost their coach, Matt Hurlock, over the summer. Hurlock, who’d coached the team for nine years and built the program from the ground up, died of cancer at the age of 39.

“For many of the girls, it was the first time they’d lost somebody that close to them,” said Ryan Giberson, who took over as volleyball coach after Hurlock’s death. Giberson, coach of the school’s baseball team, had known Hurlock for a number of years. “He and I were friends, and we shared a lot of the same coaching philosophies,” said Giberson.

The team lost eight players to graduation last season, and is playing this year with only one senior. During summer league play, Coventry lost to RHAM, “I think for the first time ever,” said Giberson.

Like everyone else, they lost practice time due to unsettled weather early in the season. “We were kind of disorganized at the beginning of the year,” said Giberson. “I think it was pretty hard on everyone. It was kind of hard to build their trust.”

Despite a 3-0 win during their first game against Granby Memorial, “We weren’t really there yet,” said Giberson. The team continued winning, but it wasn’t until a game against Central Catholic in Massachusetts that they really hit their stride. Shortly before, the girls had participated in a bonding overnight in the school gym. Central Catholic was a tough opponent.

“We pride ourselves on playing a pretty rough schedule,” said Giberson, adding that Central Catholic “is, I think, one of the top five teams in Massachusetts. It was the first really high-quality opponent we faced during the season.”

Coventry won that game and every game that followed, putting together an undefeated season and capturing their sixth consecutive Class S state championship. “Even Matt, last year, thought we would lose a few matches,” said Giberson. “We beat really good teams like Bristol Eastern, East Lyme [Class L champions] and Southington [runners-up for Class LL].  The fact that we were able to persevere, and for the girls to be able to put it together, I’m really proud of them.”

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