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Penn State Fayette volleyball team expects to extend dominance

| Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 10:33 p.m.

For half of decade, the Penn State Fayette women's volleyball team has been the class of the Pennsylvania State University Athletic Conference, and coach Nancy Wheeler doesn't expect that to change.

“We want to win the conference, first and foremost,” Wheeler said. “If we win the conference, we automatically go to (United States Collegiate Athletic Association) nationals.”

Winning the conference and going to nationals has not been a problem for the Roaring Lions. Wheeler, who has been named PSUAC Coach of the Year for five straight seasons, has guided Penn State Fayette to five straight PSUAC titles. Penn State Fayette also expects to be in the mix for a national title this year.

“At nationals, we've always been around fifth place,” Wheeler said. “This year, we'd like to finish in the top four.”

The USCAA national tournament will be held in November at SUNY-Canton in New York. However, before the Roaring Lions punch their ticket to nationals, they know a lot of work has to be done.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Roaring Lions is replacing standout outside hitter Leah Ambrosini, who graduated as the school's all-time kill leader.

“It's hard to replace Ambrosini as an athlete and a student, but being that she is now on our coaching staff, it's a smooth transition and it helps with team chemistry,” Wheeler said.

Also joining Wheeler's staff is former Connellsville coach Stacey Domer, who Wheeler credits with helping to strengthen the team's defensive play.

The Roaring Lions will have to rely more on defense.

“Our defense is much better,” Wheeler said. “That's our biggest strength.”

Connellsville graduate Caitlyn Williams will be a fixture as a defensive specialist during her freshman season. Freshman Christine Bruno is a libero who has also helped to bolster the defense.

Juniors Samantha Helmantoler, Janelle Cooper, Emily Caldwell and Katlyn Salisbury will be doing the majority of the attacking from the various hitting positions. Junior Emily Konter is the starting setter. Konter, Helmantoler, Cooper, Caldwell and Salisbury are returning letter-winners with championship experience.

“Experience here is huge,” Wheeler said. “Our five returners are all juniors, and that's a great nucleus.”

The rest of the team is comprised of freshmen, including Frazier graduate Megan Manack, who should add depth at right side hitter.

The Roaring Lions started the season by playing a grueling exhibition schedule, which Wheeler hopes will help the team during conference play. Penn State Fayette boasts a 7-5 record, including a 1-0 mark in the PSUAC.

“We always start out with a tough schedule,” Wheeler said. “It prepares us for nationals at the end of the season, if we make it, which we are expecting.”

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