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Penn State Greater Allegheny volleyball team stresses focus, communication

| Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, 12:46 a.m.

Tracy Gibbs has spent the last two years trying to develop the women's volleyball program at Penn State Greater Allegheny, but she ran into the same problem that most branch campuses face.

Because so many of the players either leave after two years for University Park or the Behrend College in Erie, or the students head home for the summer and don't remain on campus, there is a problem forming the continuity needed to compete in the sport at the next level.

So she came up with the unorthodox solution of utilizing social media to keep her players together in some manner or fashion and coach them in the process.

“We talk throughout the entire year via Facebook or e-mail, so we're constantly in communication,” Gibbs said. “And I'm always reminding them of differing links and different videos on YouTube to keep them focused in the offseason that the season is coming up soon, so don't forget to work on things like footwork and keeping the fundamentals down and they're really good with that.”

Now that the virtual coaching has been set aside and she has her players back with her for a third season, Gibbs will take Penn State Greater Allegheny onto the floor for real for the first time this season when the Lions host their 10-team Tip-Off Classic beginning at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Court Time Sports Complex in Elizabeth.

Though the beginning of any season is a time for optimism, Greater Allegheny is keeping its expectations reasonable as it heads into its first forays of the new campaign.

“We have a lot of competitive teams like Rochester College coming in that started practicing two months ago,” Gibbs said.

“The pools are evenly seeded as far as skill and standings go. We're hoping to get into the finals, but we can definitely see ourselves taking that third-place game.”

Hoping for a third-place finish may seem like an underwhelming goal, but for a team that finished last season 6-18 overall and 5-11 and in ninth place in the Penn State University Athletic Conference, it would be considered a step in the right direction.

The fact that the Lions just missed the eight-team conference playoffs a year ago is also intrinsic motivation as they head into their round-robin opener against a Penn State New Kensington team it scrimmaged at Wunderly Gymnasium on Wednesday.

“It went well at the end and it was a good opportunity for us before we kick off our huge tournament,” Gibbs said. “It let us know the fine-tuning points we need heading into this weekend.”

How well the team does will depend on how quickly it comes together behind sophomore middle hitter Alyssa Finocchi, who was the team's statistical leader in most offensive categories in 2011. The Lions also have only nine players and, with six on the court at all times plus a libero, it doesn't leave much room for error unless the team gets a quick infusion of interest from some incoming freshmen.

“The returning girls are very hungry for everything,” Gibbs said. “We think, with the new girls coming in, it's going to be a breakout year for our program.”

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