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Derry volleyball team finds success in PIAA tournament

| Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Ambridge junior Aaron Mueller (24) blocks a spike from Derry's Ian Malis  as the Bridgers defeated Derry in the WPIAL Class AA championship Thursday, May 23, 2013, at Baldwin High School.
Conor Ralph | Tribune-Review
Ambridge junior Aaron Mueller (24) blocks a spike from Derry's Ian Malis as the Bridgers defeated Derry in the WPIAL Class AA championship Thursday, May 23, 2013, at Baldwin High School.

The Derry boys volleyball team was able to shake off a disappointing loss in the WPIAL championship to Ambridge to record the best season in school history in about two decades.

The Trojans entered unchartered territory — since their state championship in 1995 — when they advanced to a PIAA semifinal rematch with the Bridgers.

The rematch was held Tuesday, after deadline for this edition.

This wild ride for the Trojans, who finished 12-2 during the regular season with losses to Latrobe and Northern Cambria in five-set matches, could have been considered unexpected after the graduation of 11 players from the 2012 team. However, coach Shawn Spencer and the rest of the Trojans didn't make it an excuse for not succeeding.

“I think the kids we had returning from last year's team were able to step right in. They have been very good teammates,” Spencer said. “A lot of the younger kids got a taste of states, maybe not by the playing time but as far as being there. The senior class from last year showed them how to do it and how much effort they need to give during the offseason.”

This senior class was led by setter Andy Panizzi and outside hitter Josh Wannamaker. The class of 2012 seems to have rubbed off on them and showed them how to get back to the state playoffs.

“The seniors (from last year) did a great job by showing them what it takes to get them back to states,” the coach said. “It has paid off, as this group (of seniors) have been able to get them back.”

Wannamaker cites more team unity and the hard work for the deep playoff run.

“It feels wonderful to have a season like this. We are a good group of guys and we just do anything for each other on and off the court,” Wannamaker said. “I won't say we have the most talent, but we have the most heart and we work hard for every point.”

The Trojans opened the PIAA tournament by defeating Bishop Guilfoyle in three sets, 29-27, 25-23, 25-17, at Bishop Carroll in Ebensburg last week.

“It was a good bounce-back match for us to play in. The kids wanted to get back on the court and bounce back from that performance against Ambridge (in the WPIAL title match),” Spencer said. “They played well in a hostile environment where 95 percent of the fans were from Bishop Guilfoyle. The kids played in a tough environment and came out on top.”

Wannamaker had 11 digs and 16 kills in the first-round match against Bishop Guilfoyle. Panizzi recorded 10 digs and 43 assists for the Trojans. Junior outside hitter Matt Vasinko contributed 16 kills.

In the quarterfinal round, the Trojans defeated Lancaster Mennonite in four sets, 22-25, 25-21, 27-25, 25-12, Saturday at Hollidaysburg. Panizzi, who leads the team in assists with 1,105 entering this week, led with 48 assists followed by Vasinko's 17 kills.

Wannamaker said the team's confidence was high as they prepared for the semifinals against the WPIAL champion Bridgers.

“I feel pretty good and I feel like our team is pretty confident going into this match,” Wannamaker said. “I think this time around is a lot different. We lost to them in the WPIAL finals but this time is in the state playoffs and it would be considered payback if we won.”

The future looks bright as well for the Trojans as the torch will be passed from this year's senior class to the current junior class that is led by Vasinko and libero Izaak Fulmer-Moffat, who lead the team in kills (364) and digs (238), respectively.

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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