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Big tests await West Shamokin volleyball

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
West Shamokin senior Emil Ihnat serves during the Wolves' 3-0 win over St. Joseph in Section 2-AA play on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, in Natrona Heights.
West Shamokin junior Chris Schink serves during the Wolves' 3-0 win over St. Joseph in Section 2-AA play on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, in Natrona Heights.

West Shamokin is heading toward rematches with the powerhouses of Section 2-AA, and the Wolves are going into those big contests on a roll.

After a 3-0 win at St. Joseph on Wednesday, West Shamokin (6-2, 5-2) is riding a five-match winning streak and has separated itself from the pack to take control of third place in the section.

Third-place finishes had been the norm for the old Elderton program, from where most of the current West Shamokin players came. Sliding into the top two, spots that have been held by Derry and Deer Lakes, would be a major breakthrough for the Wolves' first-year program.

“This year, we already had the closest match we had ever played with Derry. Even though they beat us in three games, we never came as close as we did in the four years I've played,” senior outside hitter Damon Craig said. “I definitely think that this year we have the potential to knock one of them out.”

The Wolves will get their chance to get that signature win in two matches next week. West Shamokin hosts second-place Deer Lakes on Tuesday and travels May 2 to first-place Derry.

While potential to win one of those matches is one thing, the Wolves will need to execute at their highest level to beat the section leaders, both of which are ranked top 10 in the state in Class AA.

“I'm happy with how we've played but not satisfied. I think our best volleyball has yet to be played,” West Shamokin coach Scott Craig said.

“There are days in practice we look unstoppable but we show up in games and don't play that way. Derry and Deer Lakes are both very good teams, but I think we can play with them if we want to.”

The Wolves have looked strong in their winning streak, which began with a 3-0 victory at Ford City on April 11. Since then, the team's only dropped game came in a 3-1 nonsection win over Steel Valley, and it will have a chance to sharpen up against top competition this Saturday at Seneca Valley's tournament.

“At the beginning of the year, we were having some trouble trying to figure things out,” Damon Craig said. “I think now, we've really started clicking.”

“Damon's been our leader on the court, and we've had a lot of other guys step up,” Scott Craig said. “We had to throw one of our sophomore middle hitters, Ryan Dean, in there, and he's come along nicely. (Seniors) Kevin Kaplon and Matt Marsh have also done a lot for us. I'm really happy with everybody.”

Though the team needs just one more win in its final four section games to clinch a playoff spot, West Shamokin's goals are higher than just reaching the playoffs.

The Wolves' players hope to pick up a win or two in the postseason, and improving their seeding with a signature win next week will make that a much more attainable goal.

“I think every team wants to go as far as they can in the playoffs and reaching the WPIAL championship would be great,” Damon Craig said. “But we have to get that first (playoff) win and take each match one at a time.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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