Baldwin volleyball finishes season with accolades
The Baldwin girls volleyball team played with a chip on its shoulder this season.
It resulted in a third section title in four years and a berth in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal round.
Baldwin captured the Section 2 title with an 11-1 record, then defeated Plum, 3-1, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. The Highlanders, who drew the No. 4 seed in Class AAAA, ended up 13-3 overall.
“We had a great year,” Baldwin coach Chris Kelly said. “I think we surpassed a lot of expectations and surprised a lot of other teams who hoped that, without Maddi Sgattoni, we'd have a rebuilding year.
“I feel like we were very competitive and gave most teams we played all they could handle.”
Five Baldwin players earned all-section honors, led by sophomore middle blocker Allison Murray and junior libero Mackenzie Meis, both first-team selections.
Brenna Green, a senior defensive specialist, and Ally Schenk, a sophomore middle blocker, were named to the second team. Sophomore outside hitter Anna Baloh received a third-team nod.
The 5-foot-10 Murray also was a Big 56 Conference first-team selection, and Kelly was named coach of the year.
The Highlanders were led by a strong seven-player senior class this season, anchored by Green and Brianna Phillips, a right-side hitter. The five other senior team members were defensive specialists Marissa Meis, Emelia Zandier and Megan Moskiewski, setter Alana Price and outside hitter Erica Blanner.
Green was a second-year starter.
“Brenna was really good this season,” Kelly said. “She is very consistent in serve-receive. Her passing may go unnoticed because we've become so accustomed to good passing and being able to run our offense that we take her for granted. She's also a great defender. Our matches with Upper St. Clair stand out to me. She had 15 digs in the first match and 17 in the second match. She refused to let those outside hitters beat her. She also had 17 digs during our first match with Canon-McMillan.
“Brenna certainly deserves her spot on the all-section team. She was a big reason for our success this year.”
Green has a 4.3 GPA and is involved in a host of extracurricular activities, including the National Honor Society, Spanish Club, Key Club, da Vincian Society, Math League, Purbalite and the Special Olympics program.
“I am so proud of what my team accomplished this year,” Green said. “We were really underestimated coming into the season. We focused a lot on just playing our game because we knew by doing this we would be able to prove that we deserved a better placement than we had been given.
“I think our all-around defense and hard work were our strengths. We learned how to play scrappy and make a play whenever we were out of system, and that became very successful for us.”
Green also competes in lacrosse at Baldwin and played club volleyball for the Pittsburgh Elite program from fourth to 10th grade.
She's been forced to battle leg injuries and ensuing surgeries throughout her high school career.
“I started playing (volleyball) late in my freshman year because I was not yet cleared from an ACL surgery I had in eighth grade,” Green said. “Then in the spring of my freshman year, I tore my meniscus playing lacrosse. I played with it partially torn until November of my junior year, when I tore it fully at tryouts for club volleyball. I had another surgery then.”
Phillips, who has a 3.9 GPA, also has competed in club volleyball for Pittsburgh Point.
And, like Green, Phillips is involved in many extracurricular activities, including the National Honor Society, Math League, Special Olympics program and Bridge Builders. She also is the senior class prom chairman.
“Nobody expected us to make it as far as we did or even win as many games as we did,” Phillips said, “but we overcame everyone's expectations. I'm so proud of how everyone played this season, and it definitely showed through our record.”
Baldwin received the No. 4 seed for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. After defeating No. 13 Plum, the Highlanders dropped a 3-1 decision to No. 12 Hempfield in the quarterfinal round.
“I don't know if Hempfield is the best team we played, but they sure played well against us,” Kelly said. “We didn't see such an effective middle attack from any other team all season. We were usually the team with the effective middle attack and balanced offense.
“Hempfield had us on our heels from the get-go, and we could never catch up or adjust.”
No. 6 Seneca Valley defeated Hempfield, 3-0, in the WPIAL consolation match.
“I definitely think Hempfield was one of the hardest teams we played this season,” Phillips said. “Although we did play very competitive teams when we went to our tournament at State College, as well. So I would say Hempfield would be one of the better teams we played.”
Top-seeded North Allegheny won the WPIAL Class AAAA title with a 3-0 victory against No. 2 Armstrong.
“I think we played better teams than Hempfield,” Green said. “They definitely played a lot better than we had previously seen from them, but I believe we had better competition throughout the season. I would say that Armstrong was the most competitive team we played this year.”
Other key players for Baldwin were juniors Kerri Herron (DS), Rachel Stofanak (S/RS), Sydney Milan (OH/RS) and Flannery Larson (MB); and sophomores Riley Lenard (OH/RS) and Mia Hampsay (S).
For the seniors like Green and Phillips, the end of the 2017 season was bittersweet.
“Baldwin volleyball has been a part of my life since before I can even remember,” Green said. “There is so much I am going to miss about it. But I think I'm going to miss the family feel of it the most. Our team is a lot closer than I think most are, both on and off the court.
“We have a great fan base behind us, and not every team has that kind of support.”
Green plans to attend college and pursue a major in psychology in combination with either neuroscience or criminal justice.
Phillips plans study occupational therapy in college. She is considering Duquesne, St. Francis and Gannon.
“I'll miss Baldwin volleyball very, very much, from just simple everyday practices to traveling to different schools and places for tournaments,” Phillips said. “I think what I will miss most is creating the bonds between our teammates and getting to be with everyone all the time. There's no other feeling quite like walking on the court with a big group of your friends. It makes games and every day much more fun and enjoyable.
“I'll also miss the special atmosphere that comes with Baldwin volleyball. We have a very special fan and support system and a certain vibe that's hard to explain. We really love playing the game, and it shows through our record and our games. Baldwin volleyball helped me create so many new friendships and memories that I will cherish forever.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.