Carlynton volleyball competing for Section 6-A title
Emily Tupi has split her time as Carlynton's high school and middle school volleyball coach for the past seven years. While it is a busy schedule, it allows her to be able to scope out future starters for the varsity team.
When she coached the current crop of seniors and juniors as middle schoolers, she had a feeling they would be special.
So far she is right.
The team is off to a 4-1 start — the lone loss coming in a nonsection game against Class AA Keystone Oaks.
With four wins in Section 6-A play, the Cougars are on the prowl for a playoff berth, which would be a first for the program.
“They have so much talent,” Tupi said. “They have a drive and a will to win. I have seen that since they were in seventh grade. I knew it then. I couldn't wait until they were juniors and seniors. For whatever reason, the team last year didn't work.
“But this group doesn't have that problem. They work so well together.”
The team lost eight seniors to graduation. While that kind of loss can debilitate a Class A program, the squad had plenty of players to reload this year.
Seniors libero Kylie Waugh and outside hitter Kelly Jones have started since they were sophomores.
The team's other returning starters include middle hitter Emily Burch, opposite hitter Hannah Murray and setter Emily Brozenick.
In addition to experience, the team can rely on the size of 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter Jordan Melko and 5-10 junior middle hitter Conor Richardson. Richardson — who is receiving scholarship offers from Division I basketball programs — played volleyball in the eighth grade but lost the past two seasons to injury. Melko lettered last year but is getting her first full taste of varsity action.
Other players on the varsity roster include seniors McKenna Gamble and Dearia Bassett; juniors Lyrics and Lexus Woods; and sophomores Amanda Martin, Abigail Diulus and Madison Crown.
The team has recorded sweeps of Avella, Burgettstown and Chartiers-Houston. Last week, the team got a 3-0 win over Beth-Center.
The Cougars pounced on theBulldogs in the first two sets — 25-14 and 25-11 — but struggled in the third set as Beth-Center built a 20-13 lead.
“They were pretty intense,” Waugh said. “The third set was rough, but we finished strong.”
Carlynton crawled back to tie the score at 24-24 and eventually pulled away for a 29-27 win.
“The sign of a good team is to be able to come back from being down,” Tupi said. “Being able to calm down and play hard will be a big thing in the future and when we are hopefully in the playoffs.
“Being down doesn't need to mean you are done. It means you need to work harder.”
Not only is the team looking for its first playoff appearance, it wants to capture the Section 6-A crown. To do so, the Cougars will need to get past Bishop Canevin — widely considered the top team in Class A — and Bentworth.
“Those games are huge,” Murray said. “I don't know if we have ever beaten them in our history.”
And while the Cougars have struggled with the section's top programs in the past, this year's squad has a clear message — this isn't the same old Carlynton volleyball.
“It is like a fresh start,” Richardson said. “We are all working together well. Everything is so positive, and we're all best friends. Its easy to play when you get along like this.”
For Tupi, it is seeing the potential of a group of middle schoolers finally come to fruition five years later.
“It is really exciting,” Tupi said. “It is more so for the school and the girls than myself. They have put the work in to get where we finally are. It is great that people are recognizing Carlynton as a strong program.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.