Derry volleyball team rounding into form as postseason looms

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Derry boys volleyball team has picked up where it left off last season, when it was the WPIAL runner-up after losing to Ambridge in five games at the finals.

This season, Derry entered the week 6-1 overall, including a 5-0 mark in Section 2-AA mark. In tournament play, Derry started with a third-place finish in the 16-team North Allegheny tournament March 23.

“This is a totally different style of team than last year's,” coach Shawn Spencer said. “They aare more of a defensive and ball-control team this year. We have a chance to get back (to the WPIAL championship), and we have been playing well this year.”

Derry followed the third-place finish by taking second in the Derry tournament after losing to North Allegheny in the finals. The Trojans also lost to Central Dauphin in the second round of the Koller Classic on April 20 at Central York.

“Ambridge, they are a very strong team this year. They are the prohibitive favorites to beat. But in life, there are no guarantees,” Spencer said.

The Trojans mostly are led by underclassmen. The team includes four seniors, three of whom see significant playing time.

The senior class is led by setter Andy Panizzi and outside hitter Josh Wanamaker. Panizzi leads the tem with 412 assists, and Wanamaker has 165 kills.

“The team last year, we had a bunch of hitters that could put the ball away,” Panizzi said. “This year, we have hitters but we have more of a focus on being defensive and not making a mistake rather than trying to get the kill.”

Junior outside hitter Matt Vasinko is the team leader with 224 kills, and junior libero Izaak Fulmer-Moffat leads the team with 103 digs.

“I think we need to continue to improve with different aspects of the game,” Spencer said. “We need to control what we can control in the second half of the season. They have experience of being there before with being in the playoffs last year. Hopefully, the experience can propel them deep into the playoffs again.”

The team's youthful roster could bring some growing pains. But the team's experience, especially in the playoffs, looks to be paying off.

“The young kids we have on our team have a substantial amount of volleyball experience. The kids are still learning. They are receptive and willing to work hard and get better,” Spencer said. “Whenever you have young kids, they will make some mistakes. But you have to learn to live with them and keep pushing forward.”

The next big matchup for Derry comes Thursday, when it travels to section rival Deer Lakes.

“In our section, Deer Lakes is growing to be their rival. Earlier in the season, we were able to beat them, 3-1,” Spencer said. “They have had some success in the recent tournaments, so they will be amped up to face us. We will go into their place and, hopefully, pull out the victory.”

The remaining regular-season schedule includes matches against Ford City, West Shamokin, Northern Cambria, Summit Academy and Forest Hills before the playoffs begin in mid-May.

“We are a bunch of scrappy kids, and they work hard for every point and everything we get,” Spencer said. “I'm just enjoying the ride these kids have me going on, and I hope it continues as a very long and enjoyable one.”

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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