By Matt Jenkins
---- — The Bishop Fenwick volleyball program’s ascension to the top of Division 2 North has been both meteoric and unexpected. That’s especially true for head coach Adam DeBaggis, who literally had no coaching experience before taking over the vacant position five years ago.
DeBaggis remembers inquiring about joining the Fenwick football coaching staff, but the school’s athletic director (and head football coach) Dave Woods pushed him toward taking the reins of the volleyball program. The Crusaders were pretty much a middle-of-the-road team back then, but it only took a couple seasons before they were contending for the North title.
“We didn’t have a coach, he begged me and now I’m kind of in love with it,” DeBaggis said. “My assistant now, Lauran DiCarlo, had just graduated and I had coached her in basketball, and she helped me the first couple weeks before (going to) college. It was baptism by fire and I made a lot of mistakes.”
DeBaggis gradually started getting a grasp on the sport and the Fenwick volleyball program has been growing ever since, reaching its highest point to date this past Saturday when the Crusaders knocked off Melrose, 3-0, in the North final. Now, the Crusaders will play in a state semifinal tonight against Notre Dame Academy of Hingham at Tewksbury High (7 p.m.).
DeBaggis owns a career 86-26 record at Fenwick, with a 10-4 mark in the postseason. Past success will provide little help against a talented 20-2 Notre Dame team with size and strength, however, but the rise of Fenwick’s program has set it up for future success.
When DeBaggis took over the job, there were only two freshmen in the program. This season he had 20, enough for a freshman team.
Current senior captains Kate Lipka, Gianna Pizzano, Jen Crovo and Tessa McLaughlin each made huge contributions early in their careers with Lipka, Pizzano and Crovo playing as freshmen. Now, that quartet will look to keep the team marching toward its ultimate goal: a state championship.
“We want to finish,” DeBaggis said. “Our goal at the beginning was to be state champs, and the girls worked hard (towards that) all summer. That’s what they wanted to achieve. The North final was a check on our list, so they were focused (in practice) and not complacent at all. I’m happy about that.”
With the type of leadership he gets from his captains, DeBaggis isn’t surprised that his entire team shows up to play every day.
“They just lead by example. Those four never had a bad day and are never lazy and never negative,” DeBaggis said. “It’s like the movie ‘Larry Bird, A Basketball Legend’. I think Danny Ainge said that Larry used to come with 100 percent every day so everybody else had to. That’s what those four do; they go 100 percent and it sets the tone.”
It seems like Fenwick will need another 100 percent effort tonight against a Notre Dame team that has size and skill. DeBaggis considers Notre Dame outside hitter Julia Flynn one of the best players in the state.
The Crusaders know it won’t be easy, but they believe they have just as good a chance as any team to win the state title.
“They’re very tall, which I think is really the only advantage they have over us physically,” DeBaggis said. “You just have to play smarter because we have smaller hitters. We don’t necessarily have to place our shots, but play smarter. I think you still want to go up and be aggressive. You just have to work harder to make plays.
“It’s like in basketball if you’re playing a team that’s taller, you have to move the ball more. We have to work harder and keep the ball alive. It’s a test of intelligence and endurance, I think.”