The State College boys’ volleyball team is continuing through its youth movement.
How young is the Little Lion squad? There is just one senior on the roster.
“We’re in the second year of that two-year rebuild,” said coach Kim-Li Kimel, who is entering her 17th season at the helm of the program. “Because we’re so young, their attitude so far is really, ‘We have nothing to lose.’ There are very few expectations beyond, ‘Get in the gym and work as hard as you can and make other teams beat you.’”
The Little Lions, a perennial contender to win District 6 and make a run at the state tournament, had a very sub-par season by their standards in 2016. They finished with a 5-8 record and were swept by Altoona in the district finals.
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Yet the team remains fairly young, with five sophomores figuring to be part of the position battles.
“The sophomore class is really where our talent lies,” said Kimel, whose team opens its season Friday at Maplewood.
Her team also features some decent size, with five of the 10 on the preseason varsity roster standing 6-foot-2 or taller, though Kimel would like to see them grow into their bodies a little more.
“We’re big and goofy,” Kimel said. “Even though they’re big, they’re still underdeveloped.”
The team will be breaking in a new setter, either with junior Patrick McNutt or sophomore Ryan Kustaborder running the offense.
They will be sending the ball to outside hitters Tanner Kuruzovich (sophomore, 6-0), Joey Leahey (junior, 6-4), Nate Reinhart (junior, 6-2) and the team’s lone senior, Joe McCracken (6-3). The middles figure to be sophomores Jeremy Bullock (6-4) and James Pone (6-5).
The positions, however, do not always indicate their hitting spots. Kimel plans to move around their hitting zones, with some middles taking swings by the antennas, and some outside hitters running through the middle.
“We’re fluid in our ability to move some guys around and see where they’re most successful,” Kimel said.
The primary libero will be returning sophomore Quinn Williams, with back row help from freshman Ryan Cymbor.
With the competitive Mid Penn Conference testing them early and often, the Little Lions expect there will still be some growing pains this season. But Kimel is hoping the growth she saw last season continues and pays off by the time her team is playing in late May.
“I want to be on the other side of .500,” she said. “And I do not think it’s unrealistic for us to win districts. That’s what we’re shooting for. We want to get back into the state round.”
State College boys volleyball
Head coach: Kim-Li Kimel (17th season)
Assistant coaches: Mike Conkey, Paul Dunklebarger
Last year: 5-8, lost to Altoona in District 6 Class AAA finals
Key losses: Noah Christie, Brandon Kuruzovich
Returning letterwinners: Joe McCracken, Nate Reinert, Patrick McNutt, Quinn Williams
Key newcomers: Joey Leahey, Jeremy Bullock, James Pone, Ryan Kustaborder, Ryan Cymbor