Seneca Valley volleyball out to defend WPIAL title

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, 11:18 p.m.

The Seneca Valley girls volleyball team long has been considered a force in the WPIAL, having played in either the semifinals or title game every year for the past seven seasons.

In the Tribune-Review's first installment of the The Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature, the Raiders are recognized for their impeccable track record and perseverance as a team many thought would falter. Their early section victory helped Seneca Valley to 15th-place in the first Class AAAA standings.

The defending WPIAL Class AAA champions picked up right where they left off last season, ousting Class AA contender Mars and Section 3 foe Fox Chapel. The Raiders (2-1, 1-1) hit a snag in the road after they dropped a 3-0 decision to section-rival Pine-Richland on Tuesday.

Despite its early season defeat to the Rams and an unpleasant No. 5 preseason ranking in the WPIAL, coach Karen Martini is confident that although Seneca Valley is going through a rebuilding process, they'll remain near the top of the class.

“I'm not worried about it … it's early,” she said. “Right now our goal is to finish in the top three in our section to get to the playoffs and again build a strong team and get back to the semis and finals and hopefully win the title.”

Rebuilding is not a term Martini has grown accustomed to in her seven years at the helm, but it's a challenge she's prepared to undertake. The loss of Division I recruits Alex Karika (Naval Academy) and Kate Seman (University of Rhode Island); Emma Carter (Clarion); and Meghan Drambel and Laura Thomas, who are attending Penn State and Duquesne for academics, respectively, will be a season-long task for Martini.

“I don't know what they couldn't do, to be honest,” she said when asked of her departed graduates' biggest assets. “It didn't matter who we matched up against. We always put our strengths against other team's weaknesses. Those girls became a force on the court.”

This season, the reloaded Raiders will look to seniors Tricia Connelly and Madison Hoffman; juniors Abby Trezciak, Angela Seman and Kate Brown; and sophomores Bre Diamini and Sydney Martini to fill the holes left from graduation.

This year's junior class of Trezciak, Seman and Brown played pivotal roles on last season's WPIAL championship team as sophomores, so Martini expects added production and leadership from the trio.

“It's early in the season and we're still trying to find that mix of the six to eight players that are going to take the court to win,” Martini said. “We don't have a set lineup, so we're trying to find what's comfortable and whose role is what. We fared well (last) weekend.”

Last weekend, Seneca Valley traveled to New Holland, Pa. and competed in the Garden Spot Invitational — a 20-team event fielding the top-ranked teams as rated by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.

There, the Raiders, who are ranked third in Class AAA, finished second behind the top-ranked team in the state, Bishop Shannahan. Seneca Valley picked off Hempfield (District 3) and State College. Martini pondered the results on the bus ride home.

“On that four-and-a-half hour drive home, the whole way home, I'm going, ‘we were in the finals?' ” she said. “We picked off a couple of the better teams in the state.” Martini is quick to point out that early season success at a prestigious tournament or a heart-breaking loss in section play will not deter the mentality she's stressed to her players. She said she's confident the right players will rise to the top.

“I've got about 10 players that can play the game, and I'm trying to find the winners on the court,” Martini said. “The go-to players that don't want to make errors, that aren't satisfied with second place, that want to be first, are going to come out.”

A true test for how the season will unfold will take place Tuesday night at North Allegheny's gym when Seneca Valley matches up against the Tigers, who are ranked second in the state.

“We've never been afraid of them, and we've never been afraid of Pine-Richland,” Martini said. “It's just who comes out to play that night, I guess.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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