When it comes to setting the bar for the next season, there isn’t much room for improvement for the State College girls’ volleyball team. They could only be slightly better than they were in 2016.
Finishing with a 22-1 record, a District 6 title and advancing to the PIAA Class 4A semifinals is hard to beat, but that’s the goal for this fall.
“It was a really big confidence boost for us,” junior libero Katie Finlan said. “Kind of, normally, an undefeated regular season would be just something to dream about, but just that it happened and we know that it’s possible, it just is definitely a confidence boost.”
The team also learned the value of other parts of the game even if the lineup was lacking any imposing size at the net.
“It showed us just how much team chemistry actually matters and how that can help us this year,” junior outside hitter Jess Irwin said.
The Lady Little Lions are hoping to maintain that confidence with the return of four starters, but they also have to forget much of that success and focus on the clean slate of 2017.
“Last season is last season and that’s where we have to leave it,” coach Chad Weight said.” Every year brings a new dynamic, so where we’ll get to depends on how hard we work every day in practice.”
Bald Eagle Area
The Lady Eagles have been setting the standard in the Mountain League, winning 31 straight matches, and figure to be the team to beat once again despite losing a large portion of their starting lineup.
“We’ve got some good pieces back,” said coach Larry Campbell, who has a deep roster and a feeder program that should keep BEA competitive for years.
Leading the returning group is 5-foot-9 outside hitter Grace Hugar, who was the Mountain League’s Most Valuable Player as a freshman. Feeding her the ball will be Madison Rockey, who stepped into the setter role midseason last fall. At 5-foot-10, Rockey is athletic and gives the team a blocking presence on the right antenna.
Joining Hugar at an outside spot is Miranda Ballock, who Campbell feels might be the team’s best passer. Battling for swings on the right side are Michaela Maynard, Brooke Woodward and Elita Brown. Among those looking to step in as a middle blocker are Mae Hugar, Taylor Kilmer and Jordan Anderson.
After Regan Dyke was a stalwart four-year starter at libero, the Lady Eagles will be looking for back row help from Cirstyn Comly and Alison Onder.
Helping round out the lineup is utility player Lexi Skripek, who shows versatility at setter, opposite and back row.
While BEA is loaded with talent and has been for years, the team needs to match its regular-season success in the postseason. After winning the 2014 District 6 title, the Lady Eagles have suffered early losses the last two years.
“The big thing is getting ourselves pushed,” Campbell said. “We have multiple classes that are good. We should be good the next couple years.”
The Lady Red Raiders are going through a last-minute change as the new season looms. Megan Flick takes over the program, just approved by the school board Aug. 15. Flick was a standout player at rival Bald Eagle Area, graduating in 2012 and then playing four seasons at Lock Haven.
Flick, who was an assistant coach last season at BEA, replaces Christina Diaz, who was named director of operations for the Penn State softball team earlier in the summer.
“It’s really tough but I really, really love what I’m doing,” she said. “I thought it would be more stressful, but I love what I’m doing. I knew I would like it, but I didn’t know I would love it this much.”
She said the hardest part of the transition, since she was just officially hired, is not having a coaching staff yet. As of last week, they were still waiting for the paperwork, background checks and approval before they were allowed in the gym.
Although she is still learning about her new team, she can lean on a few girls to get the season started. Shaelah Pepperman saw some starting time at setter last season, and Chelsea Robson also will get work at setter. Outside hitters include Anna Rutecki, Phoebe Rowland, Alexia Mishock and Morgan Goodman. Kaylee Dreese figures into the plans at opposite, along with Skylar Kellerman. Middle blockers include Madelyn Dreese, Drew Nixdorf and McKenna Hendrix. Defensive specialists will include Amelia Walker and Lauren Yeager.
Flick may not have had a lot of time yet with the girls, but she already likes what she has seen.
“We have a great group of personalities,” she said. “They don’t have that high school-girl attitude you would expect. ... They are really passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s really awesome. They’re really coach-able, and they enjoy what they’re doing. The growth potential is huge.”
Heading into the season, the Lady Rams are full of optimism, with six starters returning to the lineup and the leadership of seven seniors. Combined with four juniors, Penns Valley is now a veteran team.
“We have 10 returning letterwinners,” coach Jayme Ishler said. “In each of the past two seasons, we only had one senior, so we were usually the younger team on the court.”
The wealth of experience gives the Lady Rams plenty of options this fall.
Competing for spots as either left- or right-side hitters are Emma Butler, Marissa Stecko, Bella Culver, Rachel Lieb and Morgan Noll. Peyton Homan and Lexi Culver are leading the way as middle blockers, and either Abby Miller or Brooke Emel will be running the offense at setter.
There also are choices at defensive specialist with Morgan Kerstetter, Holly Pinamonti and Jadyn Butler.
Ishler is hoping that, with all of her team’s experience, the payoff will be shown on the scoreboard at the end of matches.
“This will be the third year of varsity experience in a row for the majority of our core players,” Ishler said. “After losing a lot of close matches last season, we are ready to take it to the next level.”
The Lady Mounties have a deep roster and return nearly all of their lineup from last season, setting them up to be competitive again this fall.
“This is the largest roster of players that we have had since I began as an assistant with P-O in 2006,” coach Dave Eckberg said, with nine returning letterwinners on the roster.
Graduation did hit two key positions, with P-O needing a new libero and setter. Eckberg has not yet decided if his team will run a single- or two-setter offense, with Rachel Simpson and Hannah Thompson competing for the spot, and also the top contenders at libero.
The leaders as hitters at the antennas are Jadyn Eckberg, Morgan Thompson, Kyleigh Kennedy, Brynn Bailey and Kameryn Harris. Middle blockers include Mollie Maguire and Mackenzie Welker.
One of the top assets of the team this fall will be versatility, with many of the girls able to fill multiple roles.
“We hope that our depth allows us to have more competitive practices,” Eckberg said. “This will improve our preparation for matches.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
With so much learning last season, Cori Donaghy is hopeful this season will be much more like a typical volleyball season. In her first season as Lady Wolves coach last fall, Donaghy had 11 freshmen, with all but one brand new to the sport, and new to the experience of long bus trips to play road matches.
“We’re getting over the awkwardness of adjusting to the student-athlete experience for the girls,” Donaghy said. “We’re looking forward to getting past those types of things. We’re more comfortable. When we first got together we didn’t know each other at all. We were strangers to each other, to the school, to the girls.”
While St. Joseph’s doesn’t have a lot of size in the gym, Donaghy is liking the choices she has around the rotation as the team replaces two starters and another key player.
Running the offense figures to be Anna Griggs and Emma Mallison, with the team possibly using a 6-2 offense with the two girls splitting time between setter and right-side hitter. Taking swings on the left side will be Maddie Helfer, Maggie Mangene, Catherine McCarthy and Aubrey Weiss, with Weiss also possibly playing in the middle. Joining her will be Ana Legaspi and Ruthanna McMurtrie.
“It’s been a joy watching them discover how much they love to play volleyball,” Donaghy said. “They are more aggressive, more competitive this year. That’s a sign they are enjoying playing the game. That should drive them to get better still. That’s exciting.”
Although the Lady Little Lions do bring back four starters from last year’s PIAA semifinal run, they also lost five players to graduation, including the team’s top hitters and leaders in Taylor Kuruzovich and Ali Henderson. The changes leave a young roster, with only one senior among them — Chloe Thompson, a middle blocker who transferred from Bellefonte.
Coach Chad Weight is counting heavily on his seven juniors.
“I have a great deal of trust in these kids, the junior class,” he said. “They saw how the seniors did it last year, and I’m pretty positive they can continue that.”
Weight plans to continue running a 6-2 offense — using two setters who will switch to hitters when they rotate to the front row. Leah Henderson returns to that role this season, with Kayla Moran or Kacy Sekunda contending for the other half of the rotation.
Rachel Fedorko returns to her middle blocker role, joined by Thompson, while Kate Lachendro and Irwin figure to be among the top left-side hitters. The back-row passers will be led by Finlan and Erin Lutz.
“I’m confident in their leadership we can continue what we’ve started,” Weight said.
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Larry Campbell (11th season)
Last year: 15-2, lost in District 6 quarterfinals
Assistant coaches: Randy Holsopple, Karen Donmoyer, Julie Witmer, Regan Dyke, Kaylee McCaslin
Key losses: Regan Dyke, Kaylee McCaslin, Katie Flick Vee Skripek, Madison McCauley, Madison Ripka
Returning letterwinners: Grace Hugar, Mae Hugar, Madison Rockey, Miranda Ballock, Jordan Anderson, Cirstyn Comly, Alison Onder
Key newcomers: Lacee Barnhart, Taylor Kilmer, Lexi Skripek, Hannah Zimmerman, Michaela Maynard, Brooke Woodward, Elita Brown
Head coach: Megan Flick (first season)
Last year: 5-9
Assistant coaches: Chelsea Emel, Jenny Zimmerman, Jalen Penrose
Key losses: Abbie Carr, Lauren Young, Chloe Thompson
Returning letterwinners: Anna Rutecki, Lauren Yeager, Shaelah Pepperman, Kaylee Dreese, Amelia Walker
Key newcomers: Madelyn Dreese, Drew Nixdorf, Phoebe Rowland
Head coach: Jayme Ishler (third season)
Last year: 4-14
Assistant coach: Craig Collison
Key losses: Maci Ilgen
Returning letterwinners: Abby Miller, Morgan Kerstetter, Morgan Noll, Lexi Culver, Bella Culver, Emma Butler, Marissa Stecko, Rachel Lieb, Peyton Homan, Brooke Emel
Key newcomers: Holly Pinamonti, Jadyn Butler
Head coach: Dave Eckberg (eighth season)
Last year: 21-6
Assistant coach: Chelsey Markel
Key losses: Sadie Granville, Annie Kost
Returning letterwinners: Rachel Simpson, Kameryn Harris, Hannah Thompson, Morgan Thompson, Mackenzie Welker, Jadyn Eckberg, Brynn Bailey, Mollie Maguire, Kyleigh Kennedy
Key newcomers: SaigeRyann Bone, Lexi Cianci-Donovan, Lydia Dixon, Cece Hite, Jordan McDonald, Jordyn Williamson
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach: Cori Donaghy (second season)
Last year: 5-11
Assistant coach: Andrew Nadermann
Key losses: Bella Bassett, Bella Bevilaqua, Sophia DeNezza
Returning letterwinners: Anna Griggs, Ana Legaspi, Aubrey Weiss, Maddie Helfer, Catherine McCarthy, Ruthanna McMurtrie, Maggie Mangene, Emma Mallison
Head coach: Chad Weight (eighth season)
Last year: 22-1
Assistant coaches: Jim Gonder, Jen Campbell, Audrey McDonough
Key losses: Taylor Kuruzovich, Alli Henderson, Laura Hildebrand, Keira Scharf, Avery Cymbor
Returning letterwinners: Leah Henderson, Jess Irwin, Katie Finlan, Rachel Fedorko, Kayla Moran, Erin Lutz, Kate Lachendro
Key newcomers: Chloe Thompson, Lauren Arnold, Kacy Sekunda