Butler girls grow under new coach
Butler's girls volleyball team made positive strides this fall.
The Golden Tornado just missed its goal of qualifying for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs for the first time since 2008, but first-year head coach Dan Mountain was encouraged with the progress he saw.
“I think my first year went really well. Our goal was to make the playoffs. We knew the teams in the section were really good and it'd be difficult,” he said. “We had the first (North Allegheny), second (Pine-Richland) and fourth (Seneca Valley) overall playoff seeds in our section.”
Butler finished 6-6 in section play, just behind Seneca Valley (8-4). The Tornado had a chance to tie the Raiders with a win in the teams' meeting in the section finale. A Butler triumph would have left both squads at 7-5 and qualified the teams for the playoffs. However, Seneca Valley posted a victory to claim sole possession of third place.
“It was really competitive,” Mountain said. “I was really happy with how the year went. I thought the group of seniors did a great job. They welcomed me and worked hard. The younger girls saw that and were willing to work hard as well.”
Mountain is no stranger to building strong programs. He took over at Butler after spending six years at Mars, where he guided the program to six consecutive WPIAL playoff berths. He coached the Planets to a WPIAL Class AA championship last fall. However, once the opportunity to coach at Butler arose, Mountain made the move. He is a teacher in the Butler School District.
The decision wasn't an easy one. The Planets reached the playoffs this year and are poised to be contenders next year.
“It was something I didn't think would ever happen. Butler had longtime boys and girls coaches who did well,” said Mountain, who coached the Seneca Valley boys team for three years as well. “The opportunity arose to coach a team in the district where I work, so I took it. It was a good transition. It was tough leaving the Mars team, though. We had a lot of success over the last few years. There's another talented group of young players there, so it was hard to leave.”
Mountain worked with the Butler girls through the summer and helped the team improve on its 4-8 section mark from a year ago.
“I wouldn't say it was a huge change. It was a matter of taking a little longer evaluating each player and finding the positions they were best at and finding our best rotation,” he said. “That probably took a little longer than if I had known them for a couple of years. The girls were willing to work hard, though.”
Section 3-AAA teams didn't take it easy on Butler while it adjusted to its new coach.
“It is a tough section. It's not something that we'll complain about,” Mountain said. “We knew, if we could find a way to get in the playoffs, we'd be a competitive team and do well. I think the quality of competition shows when the teams out of our section do well in the playoffs.”
Butler graduates seniors in middle hitter Gabby Carney, outside hitter Kristen Knass, middle hitter Kiana Green, outside hitter Emily Shorr, setter Tia Wright and libero Erin Hilderbrand.
“It was a great group of seniors,” Mountain said. “We lost a lot of our leaders from this year.”
He hopes some of the younger players will step up next season, including juniors Rachel Rebmann (setter), Alyssa DiPippa (outside hitter), Baylee Verner (opposite hitter), Kristen Walker (outside hitter), Lauren Skidmore (defensive specialist) and Tarrah Freund (defensive specialist).
“We'll see what we can get out of the younger grades,” Mountain said. “I'll be working with the junior high volleyball teams January through April. I hope to be a good part of the development of those players. The high school team will get back at it in the spring and summer to get ready for fall.
“That'll be nice. It'll give a good idea of what we need to work on and the things we need to do to compete with the big teams we play regularly.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.