There is a little bit of rebuilding in store for the State College boys’ volleyball team.
The program has to replace four starters and a lot of size as the Little Lions prepare to begin their season, which will be difficult right out of the gate.
State College opens its season Wednesday at Hempfield, a perennial contender for a state title out of Lancaster that made it to the PIAA semifinals last season.
State College must replace large chunks of offensive numbers thanks to graduation. Only two of the six seniors on the roster started last season, and the roster is also packed with 11 freshmen and five sophomores to add to the youth movement.
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However, in addition to the the usual lineup changes that come with graduations, the Little Lions will also be changing their offensive system this season, switching from a standard 5-1 offense — five hitters and one setter — to a 6-2 offense with two setters while each is in the back row and hitting when they are in the front row.
The move was necessitated after Walker Stone transferred to State College this year. The 6-foot-3 Stone was a Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA All-State setter at Fort LeBoeuf High School last season.
He joins 6-foot-4 returning starting setter Brandon Kuruzovich.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to get the most out of both of them,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “Let them kind of thrive within our system.”
The two seniors have been running 5-1 offenses most of their lives, both in high school and club, and the coaches have to be patient as the two adapt and get used to employing new skills.
“They both need to mentally reset, and become part of the offense at the other end of the ball,” Kimel said. “That’s been the biggest challenge.”
Leading those who will be taking the sets from Kuruzovich and Stone is 6-6 junior middle blocker Gabe Avillion, who has been putting in a lot of time training on the court and in the weight room.
“He’s big and he’s got power,” Kimel said. “He could be the strongest kid we’ve seen come through, and he’s really just coming into that right now, which is really nice.”
Another junior returning to the lineup is 6-1 outside hitter Scott Tillotson, who was a serving specialist last season and is one of the team’s stronger passers. He and senior libero Noah Christie will be the key passers on the defensive side.
A sophomore who may have a big impact is Jacob Whipple, an athlete who also plays soccer.
Kimel and the Little Lions know there may be a few early bumps in the season, but in the end hope it all adds up to another District 6 title and a state tournament berth.
“The Mid Penn is going to be tough,” Kimel said, “but I really think we have a shot of pushing to be in the top two this year. I think we can do that.”
Coach: Kim-Li Kimel (16th season)
Last year: 10-7, 6-4 Mid Penn Conference, District 6 champions, lost to Bethel Park in PIAA first round
Assistant coaches: Kirk Hoover, Mike Conkey
Key losses: Tyler Snyder, Aaron Cymbor, John Weakland, Peyton Stark
Returning letterwinners: Noah Christie, Brandon Kuruzovich, Scott Tillotson, Gabe Avillion
Key newcomers: Walker Stone, Jacob Whipple, Justin Tureene