Baldwin volleyball unbeaten in 1st half of section play
Baldwin girls volleyball coach Chris Kelly anticipated there would be a learning curve for players on this year's team.
Kelly noted there were more question marks surrounding the 2017 team than in any of his three previous seasons at Baldwin.
“But it's a challenge we accept and embrace,” he said. “We're not afraid of it. We're up for it.”
Indeed, the Baldwin girls not only accepted and embraced it, they've overpowered it.
The Highlanders wrapped up the first half of section play unbeaten and in first place in Section 4-AAAA, ahead of Upper St. Clair, Peters Township, Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon and Moon.
“I am so proud of this team,” Kelly said. “There was no one, outside of our players, that thought we'd be a good team this season. We talked a lot about that in the preseason. The expectations of others didn't mean much to us. From the beginning, we felt that we would be able to compete.
“As in previous seasons, our strength can be found in our ball control. We pass well, serve tough and play really good defense. So far this season, every girl has played in at least one match. This has been a team effort. I regularly play nine or 10 girls per match, and the personnel varies from game to game.”
Kelly welcomed back 10 returning letterwinners, including starters Brianna Phillips, a 5-foot-9 senior middle blocker; Allison Murray, a 5-10 sophomore middle blocker; and Mia Hampsay, a 5-7 sophomore setter. Phillips is a third-year varsity player who also has played club volleyball for three years for the Pittsburgh Point.
Other returning letterwinners include seniors Alana Price (setter) and Erica Blanner (outside hitter); sophomore Ally Schenk (middle blocker); and senior defensive specialists Marissa Meis, Brenna Green, Emilia Zandier and Megan Moskiewski.
Rounding out the squad are five juniors — Kerri Herron (DS), Rachel Stofanak (S/RS), Sydney Milan (OH/RS), Flannery Larson (MB) and McKenzie Meis (DS) — and two sophomores — Riley Lenard (OH/RS) and Anna Baloh (OH).
Baldwin won section championships in 2014 and '15 and placed third in section play in last season. The Highlanders have enjoyed a three-year playoff run, winning WPIAL titles in 2014 and '15 with a combined record of 43-2, then finishing as a WPIAL finalist in 2016. They also advanced twice to the PIAA semifinal round, and once to the quarterfinals.
“The second half of the season will be more difficult than the first,” Kelly said. “Our goal every night is to work harder than the other team. We'll continue trying to do that.
“Going forward, we'll continue to work on our ball control and our offense. Our offense is steadily improving but not where we want it yet.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.