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Youth the theme this year for Ford City volleyball

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 12:03 a.m.
Ford City sophomore Stephanie DiGregorio goes up for a spike during practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. DiGregorio is a returning starter for the Lady Sabers.
Ford City sophomore Karlee Smith passes the ball during a practice Tuesday. Smith missed her freshman season due to shoulder surgery but likely will start this fall. Bill West | Leader Times
Ford City sophomore Christina Davis (left) sets senior Krista Klukan during practice on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.

It's the year of the youngster for Ford City girls volleyball.

First-year coach Courtney Kovatch, a 2004 Kittanning graduate, and assistant Jill Emberg, a 2007 Kittanning graduate, lead a group of Sabers that will rely on underclassmen in critical moments.

But all that youth does not spell doom for Ford City, which lost just one full-time starter to graduation. The Sabers will grow stronger and smarter in time, but they consider themselves ready to go

The most energized and vocal among them are sophomores.

“That entire sophomore class is like our rock, basically,” Kovatch said.

Sophomore Christina Davis serves as the team leader after starting at middle hitter a season ago. To an extent, she's picking up where her older sister Heather, a 2012 graduate, left off.

Davis entered the spotlight last season after Heather went down with a season-ending leg injury during the second day of practice. Her height (5-foot-7) and athleticism earned respect. And her confidence, even as a freshman, allowed her to remain comfortable when she shouldered greater responsibilities.

“Sometimes I just want to have someone else do it, so it comes with stress, I guess,” Davis said. “But I just get over it.”

Seniors Maranda Arblaster and Krista Klukan also possess some authority among the Sabers, as both are returning starters. They're willing to speak up when necessary, but they're fine with stepping aside, too.

“It makes me feel good,” Klukan said. “They're younger, and they're leading the team with me.”

Arblaster and Davis will rotate at setter, with the latter of the two also playing outside or middle hitter. Klukan is Ford City's tallest middle hitter at 5-9.

Other frontcourt contributors include junior Sarah Heddinger, sophomore Stephanie DiGregorio and sophomore Blair Willyard.

Kovatch has given Davis, Heddinger and DiGregorio the freedom to decide their positions when they occupy the front row.

“They're very strong, and they're very smart,” Kovatch said. “I told them that right now, I'll leave it up to them. They all have different plays that they want to do, and that's fine. They can do that until we see that it's not working, and then we'll have to stick to our positions. But right now, they're strong all around.”

Junior Andrea DiGregorio and sophomore Karlee Smith solidify the back row. DiGregorio is a returning starter, and Smith enters the mix after missing her freshman year due to shoulder surgery.

A young lineup, particularly one without a 6-foot hitter, isn't likely to intimidate opponents in Section 3-AA or elsewhere. The plan is to surprise foes.

“Last year, we were all new (to varsity play),” Klukan said. “And now, we're really clicking.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303, Ext. 1321.

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