Mt. Lebanon girls volleyball team spiking opponents

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 10:42 p.m.

The Mt. Lebanon girls volleyball team cruised through WPIAL competition this season, and now the Blue Devils have their sights set on a PIAA championship.

The Blue Devils captured the sixth WPIAL title in school history and third in six years Saturday after knocking off No. 4 Fox Chapel, 3-1, in the Class AAA championship at Chartiers Valley. Mt. Lebanon (15-2) then defeated District 9 champion DuBois in the PIAA Class AAA first round Tuesday.

“We're really just working to try to get better every time we play,” coach Jeff Schilling said. “We managed to figure out some things in our lineup early this year, and it's worked for us so far.”

The spotlight is on the Blue Devils in this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature. Their play on the court is a primary reason why Mt. Lebanon is tied for second place in the Class AAAA standings.

Schilling attributes a high “volleyball IQ” as the reason the Blue Devils have had success this season. Their tallest player — senior Caroline Grattan — stands just 6-foot-1, but her tenacity and ability to attack the net has been key in the postseason trek.

“She is an incredibly demonstrative attacker,” Schilling said. “One of the strengths of our team, normally if you ask about Mt. Lebanon volleyball, is passing and defense. We've handled the ball well, and when we can get the ball into Caroline's hands, she's hard to stop.”

Grattan said she relishes the opportunity to be one of the team's primary point-getters and said she takes pride in the work she's done to achieve that notion. She had 23 kills and 23 digs in the WPIAL title match.

“I've been on the team now for four years, so I've made it a general commitment every season to get better,” she said. “It means a lot to be one of the main attackers on the court. It's difficult to handle sometimes, but it's something I appreciate.”

Grattan is joined by a cast of talented role players, most notably her left-side partner Mary Baich. A sophomore, Baich is expected to fill the void Grattan will leave when she graduates and moves on to Temple University.

Schilling's middle hitters — sophomore Alexa Pavlick and junior Meg Riemer — have demonstrated unexpected athleticism and shown potential for years to come. On the right side, senior Kate Borrelli has acted as the quarterback and has been mentally sharp all season. Libero Kristen Matthis has contributed with her ability to communicate on offense and defense.

“They are very cerebral kids, and they think about the game and want to be students,” Schilling said. “It makes them strive to be better on the court, and they've learned a lot over the course of the season and made the adjustments that have gotten them to the point they are at now.”

The Blue Devils will look to continue their quest for a state championship when they face District 3 third-place finisher Hempfield at 2 p.m. Saturday at State College High School.

For Grattan, she knows winning a state title will be a tall task, but it's a challenge she welcomes.

“I think we're definitely going to have to stay focused in practices and work on skills,” she said. “The thing that is difficult about the state tournament is that you haven't seen any of these teams. You have to learn off the bat how teams are going to play.

“It is going to be exciting.”

The PIAA semifinals are set for Tuesday, and the championship games will be Nov. 17 at Central York High School.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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