State College put together a strong late-season run to the PIAA quarterfinals last season, but with four starters and one key reserve gone, the Little Lions are doing some rebuilding this spring.
However, while the exact starting lineup may not yet be in place, coach Kim-Li Kimel has some strong choices for the coming season.
“We’re not as deep as we’ve been in the past, but generally big and athletic, which is a plus,” said Kimel, who is entering her 15th season leading the program.
State College finished in the middle of the pack in the Mid Penn Conference’s Commonwealth Division, but surged through Altoona in the District 6 finals, McDowell in a play-in match and Norwin in the opening round of the PIAA tournament before North Allegheny knocked the Little Lions out of the postseason.
Now, many of the faces will change.
Taking over at setter will be junior Brandon Kuruzovich, giving the team its fourth different setter in as many years to start a season.
“He’s still growing,” Kimel said. “He could get nasty on the net. He’s probably one of our better blockers. He has great timing on blocks.”
The only outside hitter who looks solidly in the lineup is returning starter Aaron Cymbor.
The other outside spot could be taken by either John Weakland or Scott Tillotson, with Tyler Snyder possibly there or on the right side. Peyton Stark, Gabe Avillion and Dan Winkler are all competing for a middle blocker position, and Winkler also is a contender on the right side.
Weakland, who is headed to Shippensburg to play football this fall, remains a question mark because of injury. He missed all of last season and much of his sophomore campaign in volleyball for medical reasons after a standout freshman season. He also played through a pinched nerve in his shoulder suffered while playing quarterback for the football team last fall, and needed offseason wrist surgery.
“He’s a huge question mark,” Kimel said. “He’s been out of the game a long time. He’s super athletic, so if anyone can bridge that gap, he can do it.”
Noah Christie, a part-time setter last season, is moving back to be a libero this season.
But after experiencing the last few seasons with one lineup change after another because of injury, Kimel has her fingers crossed for a healthy 2015.
“If we’ve learned nothing in the last three or four seasons, we’ll see who shows up on a week-to-week basis, day-to-day basis,” Kimel said. “You play the hand you’re given, you play the board.”
While Cumberland Valley and Central Dauphin figure to have strong seasons in the Mid Penn, the Little Lion leader thinks her team could push them.
“I hope we’re in the discussion for a top-three team,” Kimel said. “I think we could be. The Mid Penn, the whole region, will again have five teams in the top 10 in the state. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.”