Derry volleyball dealing with small, inexperienced roster

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Control the ball.

That's the message Derry girls volleyball coach Brock Smith has been delivering to his players as the 2013 season approaches — mostly because of a lack of size up front.

“We're very small compared to other schools,” Smith said. “We can't really dominate at the net like the other schools in our section.

“Our ball control needs to improve if we're going to have a chance to compete.”

Smith enters the season without a single returning starter from last year's squad that finished with a 6-4 record in Section 3-AA and earned a berth in the WPIAL playoffs. In fact, Smith has lost 19 players to graduation over the past two seasons, leaving him with a limited number of players who have varsity experience.

This year's Derry team includes nine girls who earned varsity letters last year, but where they'll fit into the lineup is still a work in progress at this point.

“The competition has to be there,” Smith said of the position battles being waged in practice. “There's not one girl who has a definite position.

“I have a bunch of people who contributed at times (last season).”

Junior Nina Beatrice likely will start the season as the setter in Derry's 5-1 offensive system.

Senior Haylie White and juniors Maddie Deluca and Katerina Hamerski are vying to start at outside hitter.

Hamerski also is in competition with fellow junior Lauren Henderson and seniors Alexis Gademsey and Selena Clark for the two available middle hitter spots.

Gademsey and junior Kiersten Horrell are in the running to start at right-side hitter.

In the back row, seniors Morgan Roble and McKenzie Shannon and juniors Hannah Brasili and Lauren Heintzelman are in the running for both the defensive specialist and libero positions.

Providing depth off the bench will be a pair of sophomores — outside hitter Rachel Garris and setter Brooke Petrillo.

Despite his team's lack of size, Smith expects a strong defensive effort night-in and night-out once the regular season begins.

“We're pretty good defensively,” Smith said. “We're going to have to get very consistent at keeping the opponent's ball off our side of the court.”

In addition to daily position battles in practice, Smith will learn a lot about his players during scrimmages with other schools as August winds down.

Derry faced Norwin and Penn-Trafford — two teams larger in both classification and physical size — in a scrimmage last Saturday.

“If we deal with bigger teams, it will give us an indication of where we need to go,” Smith said. “If we can hang with them, it's an indication that we'll be OK.”

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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