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Tornado volleyball team back in familiar territory

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Luke Bryan isn't the tallest player to serve as an outside hitter in WPIAL boys volleyball. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have plenty of others looking up to him.

A senior who also started for last season's section runner-up, Bryan serves as captain for a Butler team that recently clinched its seventh consecutive WPIAL playoff berth.

“He's a good leader; the kids look up to him,” longtime Golden Tornado coach Lew Liparulo said. “And deceivingly so — he works hard every game.

“Luke, he can be an offensive player — he attacks the ball. But he also sets for me; he's played back row. That's the thing about him — he's played everywhere.”

Bryan, at 6-foot-1, more often than not fills the role as Butler's opposite. He and junior Matt Rudzski, another outside hitter, often lead the team in offensive statistics.

But Bryan's value to the Golden Tornado might be greater in its intangibles than its tangibles.

“I love having that role of captain,” Bryan said. “I love being at a position to have the attention of the rest of the team, and I feel using the attention and the power that I have, I can give it up and we can get all of our input in to make sure we're getting better as a team.”

Bryan entered the season as one of seven returning lettermen, but Butler also has plenty of youth that will serve it well in the future. A strong core for the future is exhibited by a group of five talented sophomores — libero Chris Fiorina, setter Andrew Paterno, middle hitter Rob Kuntz and twins Arum and Keenan Krause.

The latter are younger brothers of Xavier Krause, who is a freshman playing at Division I St. Francis (Pa.).

“I see (Arum and Keenan) as being as good as they get older,” Bryan said.

Fiorina, Paterno and Kuntz all already start for Butler. Fiorina actually was a contributor to the Tornado as a freshman libero.

“And he's got much better this year,” Liparulo said. “He's much more consistent with his defense, and you can see it.”

Kuntz is at the varsity level for the first time this season. “And at a very tough position for a young player at middle,” Liparulo said. “But he's worked really hard.”

Paterno is also excelling as a sophomore at a position that typically leans toward experience.

“Setter is a very difficult position, and he's come out and really filled in at a big gap that we needed him to fill this year,” Liparulo said.

Outside hitter Brandon Wampler and defensive specialists Jared Boyer and Ben Oesterling join Bryan as experienced senior leaders this season. Wampler, at about 6-3, is Butler's tallest player.

Matt Huey and defensive specialist Josh Kaufman have been the Tornado's top juniors during the 2013 season. Huey became a first-year letterman after settling in at middle hitter.

“Matt's having a really good year at middle,” Bryan said. “He's had a lot of kills and a lot of big hard hits that really brought us to some key moments in the game.”

Butler competed in a section that had two of the top teams in the WPIAL all season — North Allegheny and Fox Chapel — as well as postseason contenders Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland.

“They've come a long way this year,” Liparulo said. “They work hard. We lost a lot of close games this year, and they kept competing.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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