Trib Cup: Montour boys volleyball team hoping to overcome slow start
The Montour boys volleyball team learned early on this season wins will not come easy.
The Spartans (1-2 in Section 1-AA) finished fourth in Class AA last season after losing in the WPIAL semifinals and consolation finals.
But as they've found out, a return to the playoffs is not a given.
Coach Brendon Aleski is hoping a stinging, 3-2 loss to Beaver County Christian on Tuesday can right the ship.
“A loss like this can kind of turn your season and can go one of two ways,” the 12th-year coach said. “You can give up and stop working hard and throw in the towel, but I can say I'm confident for us it'll be a wake-up call, and we'll get focused.”
Despite the unexpected early-season struggles, the Spartans' boys volleyball team is a main contributor to Montour's Class AAA seventh-place standing for the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award.
The Spartans have had little turnover from last year's playoff team, which has kept Aleski optimistic. His go-to hitters — senior Josh Sullivan and Zach Renninger — return as the team's primary point leaders.
Juniors Matt Cain and Tyler Herman man the middle, while senior setter Zach Hartman, a second team all-WPIAL selection last year, aims to play solid defense and spread the ball around the floor.
Seniors Nolan Lasota and Jake Schaeffner and junior Mike Hensler rotate the in back row.
“We're pretty sound for the most part, but we have lapses in games where we'll give up some runs,” Aleski said. “Beaver County Christian is a good team, so if you have some mental lapses and don't do the little things consistently, you give up runs.
“When you give up runs, you're always fighting back and pressing to make something happen.”
Aleski doesn't have to worry about his players throwing in the towel yet. Sullivan said the players are all on the same page and eager to get back on track.
“Recently, we haven't been working as hard as we know we can,” Sullivan said. “We've picked it up in certain aspects, but it's been a slow start. We need to start playing a lot harder because I know we can play.”
Tuesday's loss especially resonated throughout the locker room, and assuring it won't happen again is a top priority.
“After (the Beaver County Christian loss) it was really an eye opener to everyone,” Sullivan said. “That stuff can happen, and we don't want that happening again, so everyone is focused right now.”
Aleski also has the luxury of knowing he is working with talented players who have experienced playoff success and are fundamentally sound.
“I think with this group, our biggest strength is our ball control,” Aleski said. “That's what everything starts with. If we keep handling the ball well and focus on making sure that balls are going to the targets, hopefully we can open everything up.”
Aleski hasn't changed his mindset on what he hopes the group can accomplish this season, but he knows the coming weeks will be crucial to achieving their goals.
“Our expectation was and still is — the season isn't over — make it back to the semifinals,” Aleski said, “and maybe one step closer and make it to states.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.