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Thomas Jefferson volleyball looks strong thanks to a wealth of talent

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The 2013 season could be an exceptional one for the Thomas Jefferson girls' varsity volleyball team.

Head coach Ron Kelly welcomed nine letterwinners back from last year's squad, including seven starters.

Returning starters this year consist of outside hitters Jessica Albrecht and Lexi German; middle hitters Renee Miller and Rachel Stover; Mariah Schrum, at the setter position; and back-row specialist Katheryn Rotthoff. All are seniors except Stover, who is a junior.

Also joining the mix for the Lady Jaguars are returning letterwinners Allie Yurkovich, a junior libero, and Lauren Wainauskis, a senior outside hitter.

German, Miller, Stover and Yurkovich were honored as Section 7-AA all-star selections in 2012.

“I am very optimistic about this season.We have a strong core of returning starters, plus a nice addition of some young players,” Kelly said. “This team could be special. Our hitting and blocking should make us very strong at the net. We also have some talented defensive players.”

Three other junior players looking to help out in 2013 include right-side hitter Taylor Bonds, middle hitter Gracie Duda and back-row specialist/outside hitter Megan Fitzgerald.

Top sophomore prospects on the team include Megan Fitzgerald and Bailey Veith, both at the setter position; Natalie Miller, a back-row specialist; Kayla Smith, a middle hitter.

“With many returning starters, I thought it would be easy making a new lineup,” Kelly said, “but with the emergence of some young players we still have a couple of competitions going on.”

Along with establishing lineup rotations, the Lady Jaguars have been working diligently on their serving and consistency in preseason practices.

Those are two of the keys to a potential successful season for the TJ girls.

Kelly said, “Our first ball needs to be strong. On defense, we need to serve with a purpose and at a high success rate. Serve-receive is the most important skill; we need to be more consistent. This will dictate our offense and what we can do.”

Thomas Jefferson's veteran head coach believes rival Elizabeth Forward will provide the sternest test in section play for the Lady Jaguars.

“Like the past couple years, I believe Elizabeth Forward and (Thomas Jefferson) will be competing for the section title,” Kelly said. “West Mifflin improved a lot last year, and Yough was young so I expect them to be very competitive this year.

“If we play up to our abilities and continue to improve, I think we will be a very competitive team. We scrimmaged five playoff teams from last year and held our own. I think we know what we can do; just being able to execute day in and out will be the difference.”

Thomas Jefferson will open its section schedule Sept. 5 at home against Southmoreland, and will travel to Belle Vernon on Sept. 10.

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or rfisher@tribweb.com.

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