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West Shamokin, Ford City boys volleyball teams strive for same goal

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 11:47 p.m.

The challenges are different for West Shamokin's and Ford City's boys volleyball teams, but both hope to raise the level of their program in 2014.

The Wolves are coming off a third-place finish in Section 2-AA, with only a few returning faces in the lineup. Their section rival, the Sabers, hope growing interest in the team will make them a playoff contender this season and in years to come.

West Shamokin graduated nine seniors, a large number for any Class AA program. Second-year coach Scott Craig is working to rebuild his lineup, but he admits there are things he has to learn about so many new players.

“I'm the kind of coach that always wants more, but I've had to learn to become a little more patient,” Craig said. “Last year, the team was mostly kids that I'd had for four years here and as an assistant at Elderton. It was definitely easier to coach that group, but the kids have surprised me with how quickly they've picked some things up.”

Craig has a limited cast of returning players. Outside hitters Chris Schenk and Ryan Dean earned letters last season. Middle hitter Brendon Glover is also back for the Wolves after missing last season with an injury.

Adding to the Wolves' mix are setter/right side Adam Crise, libero D.J. Hough and right side Brady Cornman.

“We have a couple first-year guys who have really stepped up and played well for only having three weeks of experience,” Craig said. “I think this group is starting to jell.”

Ford City also has a limited number of returning players, but the overall number is a positive step for the Sabers.

Casey Cousins is in his second year as coach of the Sabers after moving from Elderton, and the start of his second season has been much smoother.

“I'm a lot more optimistic than I was last year,” Cousins said. “Last March, we had to worry about the possibility of folding the program because of not getting enough players. This year, we have some experience back, and we have plenty of players to have a JV and varsity team.”

Most of Ford City's experience comes in the form of their middle hitters, Andrew Burkett and Josh Barnett. Dakota Fickes also returns after primarily playing outside hitter last season, but this season he'll be splitting time between the outside and as one of the team's setters in Cousins' 6-2 attack.

“Those guys kind of anchor what we do, but our lineup changed a lot last year, so most of the guys have experience,” Cousins said. “We started competing better in the second half of last year. We still lost most of the matches 3-0, but our guys would start winning more points and blocking the big hitters for other teams. They're moving in the right direction.”

Both teams face the challenge of Section 2-AA's powerhouse programs, Derry and Deer Lakes. Behind those two lies an opening. West Shamokin, Ford City and Summit Academy will jockey for third and fourth, with one of the playoff teams from last year, St. Joseph, dropping from the section.

“Derry and Deer Lakes have ruled this section forever,” Craig said. “They're the top two, and I see us working to come in third place. That has seemed to be our spot the last couple of years.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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