Sophomores help Baldwin volleyball capture section championship
There are five sophomores on the Baldwin girls varsity volleyball team.
All have had integral roles in the Highlanders' success this season.
Allison Murray is a strong, power-hitting middle blocker; Mia Hampsay is a smooth, skillful setter. Both are second-year starters.
Middle blocker Ally Schenk is a first-year starter and second-year letter winner. Riley Lenard and Anna Baloh are outside hitters in their first season of varsity competition.
“The impact of the sophomores can't be overlooked,” coach Chris Kelly said. “All five have played significant roles as starters this season.”
Murray, who stands 5-foot-10, is a dual-sport standout. She also played first base on Baldwin's section-winning softball team last spring. She has been a starting middle blocker since the start of last season, and this year leads the team in kills per match.
“Allison's strengths are found in her speed and power,” Kelly said. “She's very aggressive and hits the ball hard. She's also versatile. I'm comfortable with her taking swings from any position in the front row.”
Each of the sophomore netters have helped solidify the Highlanders' offensive attack this season.
“With Mia setting, Ally and I in the middle, and Riley and Anna on the outside, we all bring strong offense,” Murray said. “As sophomores, we do try and lead the team as much as we can. We all have had an impact on the team by bringing as much fun onto the court as possible.”
Murray also plays club volleyball for Renaissance and travel softball for Team Pennsylvania Fast-Pitch. This summer, the Renaissance volleyball team attended Junior Nationals in Minnesota.
The 5-7 Hampsay jumped into the starting lineup last season and has provided outstanding play at the setter position for the Highlanders.
“Mia was actually the third setter we used last year,” Kelly said. “Because of injuries to Alana Price and Erin Ferrari, Mia was brought up from the JV team to start for the varsity, which she did from about halfway through the season through the state playoffs. Mia has become a little bit stronger physically, which gives her the ability to push the ball outside more effectively than last season. She does a really good job of scrambling to make plays, and sets the middles very well even when the passes aren't perfect. It's important for us to establish the middle early in matches so we can freeze the opposing middle blockers so Riley and Anna have an easier time on the outside.
“Mia's defense in the back row has also improved. She's very good on the run. She can track down almost any pass and can bump set really well when she can't get her hands on the ball.”
Schenk, at 5-11, is the tallest player on the team. She practiced with the varsity as a freshman but saw limited playing time in matches.
Schenk has started at middle blocker all season, and ranks second on the team in kills per match.
“Ally has really stepped up from last season,” Kelly said. “She's starting to learn the game little by little. She's not even close to realizing her full potential. The more she plays and the more game situations she finds herself in, the better she'll get.”
“Ally's strengths are found more in her consistency and finesse. She makes very few hitting errors, almost always keeps the ball in play, and can tip the ball very effectively to open areas of the court.”
Murray and Schenk, who plays club volleyball for Pittsburgh Elite, are tall and athletic, providing an intimidating presence at the net area for the Highlanders.
“Allison and Ally do provide a presence at the net that we haven't seen before,” Kelly said. “We always had good, quick, effective middles, but never two at the same time with the height that Allison and Ally provide. That height, along with the ability to have senior Bri Phillips on the right side, has allowed us to block more balls than we have in years' past.”
Schenk is thrilled with the achievements and camaraderie of this year's team, and looks forward to continued success in the gym in her high school career.
“The sophomores have contributed a lot; we bring a lot of excitement to the team,” Schenk said. “Allison, Riley and Anna are smart hitters and know how to put the ball down. Mia is a great setter and sets the ball perfectly for me. I can't wait (to play) the next couple seasons with them. And I can't wait to see what the rest of this season will bring.”
Lenard, who also has played right-side hitter this season, and Baloh are listed at 5-8 and 5-6, respectively. They are in their first year with the varsity team.
“Both Riley and Anna were JV players last year so they've taken on much bigger roles,” Kelly said. “Riley is very consistent. She is able to place the ball where she wants it to go. Anna definitely brings lots of energy to the court.”
Baldwin won the Section 2-AAAA championship this season with an 11-1 record.
It was the Highlanders' third section crown in four years, but the first at the varsity level for the sophomore class.
“Winning the section title was very unexpected by everyone but us,” Murray said. “Everyone expected this year to be a ‘building year.' We went undefeated for about half the season, which was a great accomplishment.
“We believe in ourselves, and we work as hard as we can at every practice, scrimmage and match. Each and every one of us is hard working. We like to take it game by game and point by point, focusing on only the next point.”
Murray said the team is “super excited” to be in the playoffs, and is at its best when it is having fun on the court.
“The more fun we have together on the court is when we play our best because we are loose,” she said. “Everyone knows what everyone's job is on and off the court, and what we have to do to get the next point.”
Schenk believes the Highlanders were highly motivated in their quest to win the section title and advance to the playoffs.
“Coming into the season, I think a lot of people doubted that we would even make it to the playoffs,” she said, “but everyone on the team worked really hard to get to where we are. I think the strength of the team is our motivation to prove people wrong after they doubted that we would make it this far.
“Also, we have really strong coaching.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.