Trib Cup: Mt. Lebanon volleyball used to overcoming adversity
Mike Switala has had quite a few obstacles to battle in his first year at the helm for the Mt. Lebanon girls volleyball team.
While awaiting final construction of the school's new gym that is set to be complete in November and replacing five graduated seniors — including the top volleyball player in Class AAA — Switala and his Blue Devils are in second place in Section 5 with a 10-2 record.
For their play throughout the season, the Blue Devils are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Mt. Lebanon is in seventh place in the Class AAAA standings.
“It's been rough because of the gym situation early on and we didn't really have a signature win this year against a high-caliber opponent,” Switala said. “My expectations of the team were a little lofty this year.
“I think that our girls have played tough, but we've struggled against the elite teams.”
Temple freshman Caroline Grattan was named the Class AAA MVP last season and replacing her has been a total team effort. While construction continues, the Blue Devils has been forced to play all of their home games at Chartiers Valley's gym.
“It's impossible to replace someone like Caroline Grattan,” Switala said. “She's a leader and one of the best hitters I've ever seen on the court.
“Instead of having one go-to hitter like last year, we've had to be creative as a staff finding ways to distribute the ball to more players than we did last year.”
Helping to alleviate the tension in his transition as coach, Switala fields a nine-player rotation that features three returning starters — junior middle hitter Alexa Pavlick, junior outside hitter Mary Baich and senior middle hitter Megan Riemer. Last year, Pavlick and Riemer both were second-team All-WPIAL Class AAA selections.
Senior outside hitter Keeley Foor was slated to start last year but missed most of the season due to injury.
“They have tried their hardest to push each other to be better players,” Switala. “Even after bad games or bad losses, the team does not fall apart.
“There's been almost no in-house conflicts this season, which is extremely rare for a girls' sports team whether they are good or bad.”
Three seniors and three juniors round out Switala's starting rotation. Defensive specialist Victoria Sullivan, setter Anna Kulzer and opposite hitter Alyssa Lebowitz are seniors, and defensive specialist Alyssa Smith, service specialist Angela Smith and libero Katelyn Wilhelm are juniors.
On Monday, the Blue Devils' will know who will be slotted along their path to another district title after the WPIAL announces the playoff brackets. Switala said this season is difficult to judge how the cards will fall given the parity throughout Class AAA.
“We're going to take playoffs this season one game at a time,” Switala said. “We're just going to do our best against whichever opponent we are given and try to make those little in-game adjustments that can help you succeed in the playoffs.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.