Resilient Derry boys volleyball team falls in PIAA semis
The magical season for the Derry boys volleyball team came to a halt last week after a 3-0 loss to Ambridge in the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA playoffs at North Allegheny.
Even though Derry fell, 3-0, to Ambridge in the WPIAL final, the Trojans didn't lay down and hand the victory to the Bridgers, and the PIAA loss was closer than it looked.
The scores of the games (28-26, 25-19 and 25-23) reflected the level of competition.
“We certainly played them tougher than the other previous games,” coach Shawn Spencer said. “We were more relaxed going into the game. The kids executed the game plan a little better.”
The Trojans had a late first-set lead at 24-22 but were not able to hold on. Derry also had a late second-set lead, 16-15, after falling behind, 7-2, in the second.
In the semifinal match against Ambridge, Derry was led by junior outside hitter Matt Vasinko (18 kills) and senior outside hitter Josh Wannamaker (10 kills and nine digs). The Trojans also got contributions from senior setter Andy Panizzi (40 assists) and junior libero Izaak Fulmer-Moffat (14 digs).
Derry fell victim to inopportune miss-hits and service errors.
“I think we did some of the things we needed to do in order to win,” Spencer said. “However, we didn't execute the game plan way we needed to do, but I think we executed the game plan 90 percent of the game. Overall, the team did well this season.”
At the beginning of the season, the Trojans needed to figure out how the team would look after losing 11 players to graduation.
Falling short of the state finals gives those returning next year a goal. This year's accomplishments after such a large overhaul also garner confidence that they could go further next year.
“It's a little disappointing getting that close. If we were able to get one more win, we would be representing our school while playing on television,” Vascinko said.
“This experience is something to build on and it still feels good to accomplish a lot this season. It's a good feeling because it's something a lot of schools didn't get to do.”
The Trojans will lose two key contributors, Panizzi and Wannamaker, to graduation. Vascinko will need to take more of a leadership role next season.
“I'm not a really one of those people who is very vocal. I will just continue what I know how to do, which is working my hardest and playing hard. I hope if I continue to do my job that the younger kids will see the hard work and follow me.”
Spencer needs to replace Panizzi at setter, and Jake Zemba, Sam Water and freshman Justin Ray are candidates.
Vascinko and the rest of the returning Trojans will continue to follow their coach and the intangibles he instills in the team. Key among those is remaining level-headed no matter how much success they have.
“It's more of a tradition and one of the better sports here at Derry,” Vascinko said. “Coach Spencer doesn't put any doubts in our mind. He keeps telling us we know what we have and to not get overconfident. He continues to stress on where we are at that moment and where we need to be to get somewhere.”
Spencer reflected on how magical this past season was in seeing the evolution of the individuals on the team morph into a closely knitted team that only cared about the team goals.
“As a coach, I think it was awesome just watching the group of individuals become a team,” Spencer said. “They put away any individual success for the betterment of the team. It didn't matter if you were No. 1 on the team or if you were the 20th member of the team. It was very enjoyable for me.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.