Centre County has been producing some strong talent in the high school volleyball ranks over the past decade, and 2013 should be no different.
State College has one of the nation’s top players and is aiming to get back to the state tournament, while Philipsburg-Osceola also has its sites set on District 6 and state success.
The area definitely has some talent.
At the top of the talent list is the Lady Little Lions’ Taylor Leath. The 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter is a “Senior Ace,” according to prepvolleyball.com, has picked up numerous other honors and has a scholarship waiting for her at North Carolina after weighing offers from several top-20 programs.
The senior is returning from missing all of last season after having knee surgery and earning all-state honors as a sophomore.
But the Lady Little Lions have much more than Leath. The team also brings back all-state selection Christine Irwin, a junior outside hitter, as well as 6-1 sophomore middle hitter Kyla Irwin.
The team has reached the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals twice in the past three seasons while posting a 48-7 record over that span.
Last year the Lady Little Lions were 19-3, winning the Mid-Penn Conference Commonwealth Division in their first season as members and also taking the District 6 title.
All but one starter returns, with Leath added to the lineup. The lone loss is at setter with a brand new quarterback after Suzanne Horner graduated and is now at Mississippi State.
“Expectations are high,” coach Chad Weight said. “Coming off another trip to the state quarterfinals and given (our) returning players, we fully expect to be in the hunt. A lot of it will be determined on the development of our setters.”
While the Lady Little Lions may have the top talent and biggest expectations, they are hardly alone.
The Lady Mounties fell just short of the PIAA tournament last season, losing in the District 6 Class AA final.
With four Mountain League all-stars returning among a roster heavy with experienced seniors and juniors, P-O expects another big year.
“We hope to build on the success we had last year,” said Lady Mounties coach Dave Eckberg, whose team posted a 30-6 mark in 2012. “We have solid senior leadership, a talented group of juniors and some nice prospects in the sophomore and junior classes.”
Also feeling confident is Penns Valley, which lost only two players from last season’s team which finished 9-9, made the district tournament for the first time and even scored its first wins over Bald Eagle Area and Central.
The big change for the Lady Rams is at coach, with Sei Hee Hwang taking over the program after the departure of Joi McKenzie.
“We’re excited for the new season with a group of girls with solid experience,” Hwang said. “I know having new coaches is difficult, but the girls are adapting very well and working hard to get ready for the season.”
BEA, meanwhile, has plenty of stability with coach Larry Campbell returning eight letterwinners for another campaign.
Only three of them are seniors, and junior middle hitter Nicole Doroschenko was a second-team Mountain League all-star last season on an 8-11 team.
“After a full season of club and summer league, we look to return to the level of success we have had in previous seasons,” Campbell said. “ After a season of playing a lot of underclassmen, this season has a large group looking to build from their initial taste of varsity volleyball.”
Second-year coach Carla Weaver also has been working hard to bring the Bellefonte program back into contention in the Mountain League and district, and she has a lot of experience with which to work. She has eight returning seniors, and eight total letterwinners from the Lady Raiders’ 3-13 team.
“Last year we had a difficult season catching up to other teams,” Weaver said. “We still managed to earn three wins, but this year many of the girls have put time into the offseason and are leaps and bounds farther ahead than when we started on Day 1 of last fall.”