Butler volleyball team hopes to continue strong start
After missing out on the WPIAL Class AAA boys volleyball playoffs last year, Butler is determined to make a return trip.
But the Golden Tornado have their sights set on much more.
“They want to go to states,” said coach Lew Liparulo, who is in his 21st season. “We have worked hard all season. The kids have a lot of leadership. They want to be successful.”
Of course, reaching the state tournament is no easy feat, especially when it's a battle to become one of the four Section 3 teams to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.
Competition among perennial power North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, Fox Chapel, Pine-Richland, Shaler, North Hills and Butler is intense.
“We're trying to compete; there's been no night off for everybody in our section,” Liparulo said. “NA sets a very high bar. Seneca and Fox Chapel are very good. North Hills has put together a good program this year. Pine-Richland played a lot of young kids and has come on, so has Shaler. Every night in our section, if you don't play, you lose. That's a good thing.”
The Golden Tornado got off to strong start. The squad won its first four matches, including its first three section matches against North Hills, Shaler and Pine-Richland. Butler nearly upset North Allegheny on the road, but the Tigers prevailed, 22-25, 25-22, 25-15, 22-25 and 21-19.
Butler took a 3-2 section record into the week.
“The kids know the ball could have fallen either way. North Allegheny is a very good team and a well-coached team. It really could have gone either way,” Liparulo said. “The players realize that. They realize it was within their capability.”
Resilience has been a strength for the Golden Tornado.
“One thing is different about this team. Against NA, we won the first game, but went down 2-1 and came back and forced a fifth game. We did the same thing against Latrobe earlier in the year and came back and won,” Liparulo said. “They have a reservoir of self-confidence. They know they can dig out of deep holes and come back.
“In volleyball, which is a sport of streaks, it's a big deal. They hear me say it a thousand times. There are no plays that are connected. Once the ball hits the ground, it's a fresh start. You have to focus on the positive and not worry about any mistake that was made before.”
Matt Huey had 25 kills against North Allegheny.
The senior middle hitter is one of the section's top players. He was a first-team all-section player last year and earned third-team All-WPIAL Class AAA honors.
“Matt is one of the strengths. That was a heck of a night against NA,” Liparulo said. “It's not like he was playing a team that was not highly skilled.”
Senior outside hitter Matt Rudzki, senior defensive specialist Josh Kaufman, junior setter Andrew Paterno, junior middle hitter Robert Kunst and junior libero Chris Fiorina return for Butler. Junior right-side hitter Keenan Krause, junior outside hitter Stephen Kriley and junior defensive specialist Gabe Baroffio contribute in the 5-1 offense as well.
“They are willing to be in the gym. So am I. It's a good deal,” Liparulo said.
Butler has taken part in several tournaments so far. The Golden Tornado lost in the semifinals of the Norwin tournament, captured the North Hills tournament title and finished second in the Hempfield tournament.
“I am very proud of where they are right now,” Liparulo said.
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.