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Frazier, Geibel ride youth into WPIAL volleyball playoffs

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Frazier's Paige Rocco (18) and Alena Blaszczak (10) as well as Geibel's Rachel Elias (17) will each try to help their respective teams earn a first-round WPIAL Class A playoff victory on Wednesday. Lori Padilla/For the Daily Courier

The Frazier and Geibel girls volleyball teams have each shown what it takes to be winners on the court year in and year out.

This season, Frazier coach Mandy Hartman and Geibel coach Rick Watkins each faced the challenge of trying to mold a young team into a competitive unit, and both have done so successfully.

Each team qualified for the WPIAL Class A playoffs, and both will play a first-round game at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Geibel (10-4) tied with California for second place in Section 5-A and is making its 19th straight playoff appearance. The Gators will play Riverview at 6 p.m. at Fox Chapel High School.

The Commodores won the Section 5-A title for the fourth straight year and will be making their 16th straight trip to the playoffs. Frazier (12-2) will take on Chartiers Houston at 6 p.m. at Peters Township High School.

“They certainly exceeded expectations,” Hartman said of her team's performance to date. “Our hope was to make the playoffs and be competitive, but I think this team looked at previous teams and they wanted to do the same thing.”

Hartman believes her team's best quality heading into the playoffs is a strong resolve.

“What I like about this team is that they never give up and they never quit,” said Hartman, citing a game last week in which her team trailed California in the fourth set and was on the cusp of losing its first section match of the season before staging a rally to pull out the win. “When you see that, you know you have something special.”

The Gators may also be in the process of building something special. Geibel lost starting outside hitter Kaylee Ermine early in the season, but was still able to make the necessary adjustments to have a strong campaign.

“I think we are right where I thought we would be,” Watkins said. “If you look at the matches we lost, we won the first set in each of those matches, so it's not like we can't compete.”

Senior Emily Costantino is Geibel's top hitter, and sophomore Haley Solan leads the team in assists. Seniors Toni Ardabell and Peyton McIntyre, as well as junior Rachel Elias and sophomores Ashley Tomasko and Kylee Soberdash, complete the Geibel starting lineup.

“It's been a journey seeing the sophomores and the freshmen grow up,” Watkins said. “To this point in the season, our seniors have been good, positive leaders. Our sophomores, our one junior and our freshmen have been willing to do what they need to do.”

As for the playoffs, Watkins knows that anything can happen once the tournament begins.

“In the playoffs, you can catch lightning in a bottle and your players get the confidence and maturity they need,” Watkins said.

Like the Gators, the Commodores are building around youth. Frazier has just two seniors — McKenzie Barch and Erica Harvey. Sophomore Cassidy Guiser has emerged as the team's kill leader, and sophomore Jamie Muccioli leads the team in assists. Freshmen Alena Blaszczak and Dyanna Shaporka also have stepped into prominent roles, as has sophomore Paige Rocco.

For the Commodores, sticking to what works will be the key to any playoff success the team may achieve this season.

“I expect us to play the same style that has got us here,” Hartman said. “We have to be creative and wear teams down and limit our errors. We have to stick with our same game plan.”

Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com or 724-626-3534.

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