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Oakland Catholic volleyball proud of 'banner' season

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

When Suzanne Gloekler entered high school at Oakland Catholic more than three years ago, she joined an Eagles volleyball program that had no appreciable history.

That didn't stop Gloekler, Rachel Pohlod, Maddie McDowell and other members of what would make up a very talented graduating class from thinking big.

Really big.

It took four seasons, but Oakland Catholic's now-seniors at last got what they wanted.

And so much more.

The Eagles accomplished a slew of “firsts” for the volleyball program this season. Their first playoff berth. First section title. First undefeated regular season. First No. 1 seed for the WPIAL playoffs.

“We've had one of those seasons that are just indescribable,” Gloekler said. “It's been a lot of work — but so much fun. I'm very, very excited because the girls worked really, really hard. It's gratifying that all the hard work is paying off finally after all four of those years.”

In the beginning, it was much simpler. Undefeated seasons and No. 1 seeds were mere pipe dreams. When Gloekler, Pohlod, McDowell, Amber Ricci, Lauren Slater, Allison Walker and Abby Oravitz and others were freshmen, the goal was more tangible.

“The goal ever since their freshman season when the nine of them came in was to put a (section championship) banner up in the gym for volleyball — and they accomplished it,” said Karisa Haslett, who was in her second year as Oakland Catholic's coach when the current seniors were freshmen in 2009. “Volleyball never got any recognition from the school.”

The vacant spot on the wall was glaring at a school with such a rich athletic history.

“It's always been a really big conversation among our team — we always pushed for that banner,” Gloekler said. “Yes, it was a little difficult as freshmen, but we matured as a group and just worked hard and we finally started having success.”

Something of a section nomad, Oakland Catholic moved into Section 4-AAA this season. The Eagles beat out Plum and Shaler, which tied for second.

After receiving a bye in the first round, Oakland Catholic was scheduled to play Chartiers Valley Wednesday night in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals. The winner will play in a semifinal Thursday Results were unavailable prior to this edition's deadline.

Pohlod, a setter/outside, will play at Division I Michigan Tech. Haslett said that outside hitter Gloekler and middle hitters McDowell and Slater are among those who also have a college career ahead of them.

Outside hitter Ricci and defensive specialists Walker and Oravitz also have shown great improvement, growing up within the program over the past four years.

“The senior leaders have kind of taken ownership of the team, and the team's rallied around them,” Haslett said. “They kind of controlled everything and put the team on their shoulders.

“All these girls have become very consistent, smart players.”

Junior libero Jessie Durso and sophomore opposite Meredith Walker are two of the Eagles' top underclassmen.

The ascension to the summit of the WPIAL was a gradual one for Oakland Catholic, which went 5-7 in Section 5-AAA play last season.

“I would say our team just came together,” Gloekler said. “We call ourselves a family. I'm going to say that's been the biggest thing for us — coming together as a family.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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