When the scenario is described to Peyton Stark, his eyes light up and a big smile appears.
A perfect quick set, the timing on the mark, and the State College senior takes a huge swing, pounding the volleyball into the floor.
“I like putting the ball down,” he said with pride.
Stark may not have the huge kill numbers of some of his teammates, but he makes the most of his opportunities and is a major reason the Little Lions are still playing in late May.
The District 6 champions meet Bethel Park in a PIAA Class AAA first-round match at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Altoona Field House.
For Stark, the team success has been augmented by his abilities to put the ball away, as well as his serving and blocking.
But he definitey likes to rock the ball through an opponent’s defense.
“Those have been happening a lot lately,” Stark said. “Nothing feels better than that.”
Stark leads the team with a .306 hitting percentage to go with 151 kills. He’s also a reliable server, with just 12 aces but getting more than 92 percent of his serves in, and his 49 terminal blocks also lead the team.
“But I do like putting up a great big block on someone,” Stark said. “Make sure they know they can’t hit there.”
The latter parts of the season he has been especially reliable, standing out in some of the toughest matches, including hitting over .600 against Central York and Central Dauphin and .571 for the day at the Norwin Invitational, with 18 kills on 28 swings.
“We’ve gotten to the point of expectation of his play,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “We expect him to block, get touches, we expect him to put the ball down when we need him to. It’s almost a commonplace thing, and he does it so well and so consistently, that we’ve lost sight of how exceptional he can be.”
In addition to the physical abilities, 6-foot-4 Stark also possesses a strong volleyball IQ. He has been around the sport since he was in elementary school, and it has been his only sport since he stopped playing basketball after his freshman season.
“That’s the hardest thing to find,” Kimel said. “To see that kind of depth in the game, not to just show up and be athletic in the moment, but to have the vision for the whole game, what we’re looking at across the net and to see in a fluid way inside the play.”
The highlight numbers this season have been turned in by outside hitters John Weakland and Tyler Snyder, along with opposite Aaron Cymbor. Typically they are the leaders in kills, and with teams focusing a little more defensive attention on the outside, it leaves more openings for Stark.
“I have noticed that, and I think (setter) Brandon (Kuruzovich) has realized that too,” Stark said.
“We’ve had matches where every single offensive player ... had those nights to make other teams sit up and go, ‘Oh!’” Kimel said. “In the matches Peyton has done well, those are not teams that dismiss any of our offensive (threats). Teams key in on our outsides first, but they respect the middles.”
Trevor Stark, Peyton’s older brother, has helped in the education in the sport. Trevor did not start playing the game until he was a sophomore, but used his 6-7 frame to help the Little Lions to the 2010 state title and earn a spot on the St. Francis roster. His Division I dreams were curtailed by injuries, but he has given quite an assist to Peyton.
“The coaching throughout the years has been a lot more helpful,” Stark said. “Having him play, having him learn quick, he’s helped me a lot with some of the skills.”
Even though he has really grown to love the sport, he will not continue playing in college, aside from maybe joining a club team.
“Part of me feels it wouldn’t be the same without these guys,” Stark said. “I’ve played with them my whole career, and playing without them wouldn’t be as fun, I feel like.”
He also is happy to help the team in any way possible, and isn’t focused on those impressive stats no matter how much he loves to put the ball away.
“It’s nice to feel like, if I am getting opportunities I am converting for my team,” Stark said. “Whether I get one opportunity or 12, I want to put the ball down every single time.”