It's full-speed ahead for Baldwin girls' volleyball team
Preseason drills finally are finished.
The Baldwin girls' volleyball team tipped off its 2013 season at home earlier this week against section opponent West Allegheny.
The Lady Highlanders tediously prepared for their long-awaited season opener since mid-August.
“It was a long time. We started preseason drills a little bit earlier this year,” Adam Foote, Baldwin's head coach, said. “We did a lot more team activities. The girls did more things that depended on their teammates. That's one of our focuses this year, to work on our play as a team.
“We're a highly competitive team in everything we do. There's been lots of competition for spots on the court, and the whole time the team stays positive and wants to win, not as individuals but as a team effort.”
Foote, in his third season as the Lady Highlanders' head coach, incorporated a new, more intense, conditioning concept into the program this year.
The Baldwin girls worked out three days per week during the summer months under the direction of Baldwin teacher Doug Graff, who served as weight room coordinator at the high school.
“That was the first time the girls did the conditioning and lifting to strengthen themselves,” Foote said. “It certainly has made a difference. The girls are a lot stronger, they're hitting balls harder, and they're making more plays because of the additional strength and speed they have.”
The Lady Highlanders missed the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last year for the first time in recent memory.
It's given the Baldwin girls extra motivation for this season.
“We have really big plans for this year. We have a lot of returning players, and a lot of good underclassmen,” said Tori Johnston, the lone senior in the starting lineup. “We worked out a lot this summer. Our goal is to work hard every day, and win. We want to win every game.”
Johnston, a defensive specialist, and junior outside hitter Sarah Welsh are team captains this season.
Welsh, junior Tori Dedig, a middle hitter, and sophomore Mac Voelker, an outside hitter, are the returning starters on this year's team.
“We're looking for big things out of them,” Foote said. “We're a young team, but is very poised for such a young team.
“We have very high expectations. We definitely look to contend for the section championship — our goal is to win the section — then make a run through the (WPIAL) playoffs.”
Joining Johnston, Welsh, Dedig and Voelker in the starting lineup are Mallory O'Brien, a sophomore setter; Jamie Schleicher, a sophomore middle hitter; Tori Sgattoni, a junior right-side hitter/middle hitter; and Maddi Sgattoni, a freshman setter/right-side hitter who played in Florida this summer with USA High Performance.
“The girls have kind of stepped on the gas and are going full-speed ahead,” said Foote, who is assisted by Chris Kelly, Melissa Ferguson and Jenna Bielewicz.
Key reserves for the Lady Highlanders include senior Lindsay Kozel, a setter/defensive specialist; sophomore Kadin Hinish, a right-side hitter; freshman Sydney Yanchick, an outside hitter; and a group of defensive specialists — seniors Rachel Baldinger and Katie Lachut, juniors Kelly Delaney and Angela Tozzi, and sophomore Miranda Hampsay.
Johnston also is a backcourt player in the Baldwin girls' basketball program.
But she has a special attachment to the sport of volleyball.
“I love the sport; I just can't get away from it,” Johnston said.
The Lady Highlanders' co-captain had been waiting anxously and preparing diligently for the start of the 2013 season prior to this week's action.
“I just want to be the best leader I can, and to focus on our (team) goals,” she said. “We don't want to get sidetracked from our goals.”
The Lady Highlanders will travel to Montour tonight, Thursday, and will host Moon on Tuesday.
What are some of the keys to a successful season for the local squad?
“Working hard, and getting better every day,” Foote said. “We hung in most games last year and only a few points made the difference in the season. We need to stay focused on finishing matches one point at a time.”
Baldwin's veteran head coach predicted reigning WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park will be the Lady Highlanders' toughest tests in section action.
“(They) will be strong this season, but as in years past every team in our section is competitve,” Foote said. “There are no nights off from our best performances.”
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or email@example.com.