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Penn-Trafford boys volleyball off to strong start

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford seniors Sam Kavel (right) and Jarod Zeckowski attempt to block a Gateway hitting attempt during a match on March 27, 2014, at Penn-Trafford High School.

The WPIAL boys volleyball season is in its early stages, but Penn-Trafford's squad is doing its best to show it belongs among the elite teams in the district.

After opening their season with sweeps against nonsection opponent Pine-Richland and section foes Hempfield, Gateway and Penn Hills, the Warriors (5-0, 4-0 Section 3-AAA) continued their unbeaten start by dispatching Plum in four sets last Thursday. Penn-Trafford was hoping to continue its hot start during a busy week that included matches against Latrobe, Shaler and Upper St. Clair, along with the Fox Chapel Tournament.

“It's been a good start to the season,” Penn-Trafford coach Jim Schall said. “We have a long way to go, but I think it's been a good first couple of weeks.”

Penn-Trafford's first three section victories of the season — Hempfield, Gateway and Penn Hills — came against teams engaging in rebuilding seasons, but the Warriors passed their first section test of the year in the 3-1 victory over Plum, a playoff team last season that has postseason hopes again.

“(Hempfield, Gateway and Penn Hills) are teams that have been better, and they're maybe just going through a few down years,” Schall said. “We try to look as sharp as we can and experiment with our lineup a little bit. We've been able to work in some younger players in various situations than we would typically.”

The Warriors also played two matches and a tournament without senior middle hitter Sam Kavel, an all-WPIAL selection last season.

In Kavel's absence, Schall moved senior Sean Lander to the middle and plugged sophomore Brendan O'Toole into the lineup at outside hitter. Playing with the reconfigured lineup, Penn-Trafford finished in third place at the Derry Tournament last month.

“I think that was a large step to show we're improving,” senior Michael Kearns said. “We still need (Kavel), but we've got depth to back us up.”

Weekend tournaments at Derry and North Allegheny also allowed Penn-Trafford an opportunity to play some of the top teams from the WPIAL. The Warriors finished in fifth place out of 18 teams at the North Allegheny Tournament and took third out of 16 squads at Derry.

“We see we can stick with (top teams),” senior Jarod Zeckowski said. “If we play our best game, we're with any team out there. We just can't get down on ourselves. We have a tendency to do that, and we shouldn't. But it happens.”

At Derry, Penn-Trafford rebounded from an early loss to Norwin in pool play to upend the Knights in the quarterfinals.

With a match coming up next Tuesday against Norwin, the defending Section 3 champion, that tournament victory could give Penn-Trafford a little bit of confidence.

“It's a definite confidence booster, but we can't get too psyched out from it,” Zeckowski said. “They're still a great team with a bunch of great players. But we'll stick with them and see what comes out of it.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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