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Trib Cup: USC volleyball a work in progress under new coach

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 9:54 p.m.

First-year head coach Josh Ficorilli knows his way around the bench, but it's the behind the scenes things that caught him by surprise.

Ficorilli replaced Jack Zebo as the Upper St. Clair boys volleyball coach after serving as an assistant to the 15-year veteran for the last five seasons.

“There are a ton of subtle things that the coach has to handle,” Ficorilli said. “When do we schedule team photos? How do we set the budget? I have to double-check that the bus schedule is set.

“They aren't difficult by any means, but there are a bunch of little things that are more outside of the bare bones of coaching.”

While the transition off the court has been a work in progress, his on-the-court responsibilities have had subtle nuances that Ficorilli is working hard to resolve.

The Panthers have a 6-4 record overall and a 4-2 mark in Section 1-AAA, good for third place behind Bethel Park and Peters Township. In order to earn a berth in the WPIAL playoffs later this spring, the Panthers must finish in the top four in the section.

The Panthers are this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are part of the reason why Upper St. Clair is in second place in the Class AAAA standings.

“We've been a bit inconsistent and I think that has a lot to do with the inexperience,” Ficorilli said. “At any given point, one or two of my six kids on the court are in their first year playing.

“There's a lot of inexperience and with that comes inconsistencies.”

For Ficorilli, the demands of acclimating himself to the rigors of head-coaching duties, all the while fielding a competitive group, he has the luxury of a talented foursome of leaders.

Seniors Mitch Boring (outside hitter) and Jarrod Browne (middle hitter) and juniors Bill Smith (setter/libero) and Brad Colditz (outside hitter) have assumed leadership roles. In addition to Zebo, USC also graduated seven players from last season's team.

Ficorilli said his seniors and the aforementioned juniors have acted like coaches both on and off the court, making his life easier.

“If I get caught up talking to the AD, before you know it, the net is set up and they are already going through a practice,” he said. “These four, if my staff isn't at practice, they would get the same accomplished because they enjoy it so much and take it so serious.”

Coachability aside, Ficorilli's main focus is fielding a winner. In his estimation, he isn't far off. To date, it's been a lot of trial and error and trying to find the perfect fit for the lineup.

With almost a quarter of the season in the books, Ficorilli said it's time to find out who can play.

“We just have to pick a lineup here soon and deal with it. … This is our six or seven and it's put up or shut up,” he said. “We may not find our perfect fit. We might just need to pick something now to gain consistency and go with it.”

Ficorilli said sustaining positioning in the section will not be easy throughout the remainder of the season. But to ensure they can compete when the postseason begins, the players will have to learn to play together sooner rather than later.

“I think we need to find that rhythm. … A couple things can happen here and there. If that is a particular lineup or style of play that is more aggressive or more aggressive … whatever it is, we have to find it.

“Once we do, we'll feel comfortable with where we go and how we play. Once you get that consistency, you know how to coach a little bit better.

“If I can find that style of play for them, it'll be OK to let the chips fall where they may.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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