Adversity testing Deer Lakes volleyball
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Details from the Deer Lakes boys volleyball home match against West Shamokin on Tuesday night shed light on the strange nature of the Lancers' season.
Before the match began, Nick Noble walked into the gym wearing a jersey and cargo shorts and was recognized for senior night. His introduction concluded his excitement for the night — he has missed the entire season with a knee injury — and the senior night festivities in general, because no other seniors are on the team.
Then the Lancers needed to rally to win, 3-2, against West Shamokin, a Section 2-AA foe that never delivered such a scare to perennial power Deer Lakes in the past.
And absent for the entire night was Deer Lakes coach Rick Tatrn, who missed the match and Wednesday's practice for undisclosed reasons. Tatrn, the Lancers' coach since 1971, did not return phone calls, and assistants and players declined to comment on his absence.
Senior-led, highly successful and stable for a decade-plus, Deer Lakes (5-4, 5-2) is in the midst of an uneasy period. Yet the Lancers again are bound for the playoffs, which begin May 13, and they're still in the conversation about WPIAL Class AA's top teams. Strange developments, including several players quitting the team, have failed to fully sour the season.
“It's a little bit different for us, because normally we're top three in the WPIAL at the very worst,” said interim coach B.J. Reiher, who served as an assistant prior to Tatrn's absence. “I like the potential of the sophomores a lot, and we have a decent group of juniors too. … We've just got to deal with some of the bumps in the road right now, and unfortunately, there have been more bumps than I anticipated, and it's not all on the volleyball court.”
Overcoming inexperience and youth has topped Deer Lakes' agenda since the start of the preseason. With Noble, a setter, already out of the plan, the Lancers entered the year with one returning starter, junior Jake Roberts. And Roberts, a second-team All-Section 2-AA selection last year, earned the bulk of his previous varsity time at libero but moved to outside hitter.
“He's getting a ton of sets, he's getting a ton of passes, and he's getting a ton of serves — he's our horse,” Reiher said. “He's handling it well. He's growing into the role. I'd like to see him be a little more of a leader, and I think he would agree with that. It was kind of thrust upon him, though.”
Junior Hunter Signorella and sophomore Mark Kopinski have emerged as capable middle hitters who can take some pressure off Roberts. And Adam Rothrauff, who started the year as a defensive specialist, began taking swings with confidence at outside hitter in the past two weeks.
When in need of points, though, the Lancers lean on Roberts, who shrugs at the pressure.
“When you're on the court, you don't really feel it,” he said. “I don't want to say I expected (this role), but I thought it almost should happen this way. I'm good with it and just playing volleyball like I love to do.”
Junior libero Brandon Philistine anchors the back row. He sends passes toward setters Tyler Lindgren and Josh Noble, a junior and sophomore, respectively, and tries to keep life on the court as manageable as possible for the relatively untested duo.
“You can certainly see the inexperience on their face sometimes when certain things happen,” Reiher said of Lindgren and Noble. “You can see the score on their face sometimes, but you can probably see the score on my face half of the time, too, so it's something we all have to work at.
“It's watching our body language and staying positive. It's easy when you're winning. It's tough when you're losing and laying on the mat.”
Both Roberts and Philistine acknowledged the Lancers haven't quite made sense of the adversity they've encountered this season.
“It's a completely different experience,” Philistine said. “There's a lot of stuff going on that you never would've thought would happen.”
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