Trib Cup: Penn-Trafford volleyball hopes to build momentum for postseason
With the regular season winding down, Penn-Trafford boys volleyball coach Jim Schall just wants his players to get on a roll heading into the postseason.
Entering Thursday's match against Latrobe, the Warriors (11-2 overall, 8-2 in Section 3-AAA) had a firm grasp on third place in the section, but just holding onto that spot was not something Schall wanted his players to do.
Four teams from each section make the playoffs, and the Warriors have clinched a spot, but their seeding will be based on how they finish, especially when they conclude the regular season against rival Norwin (9-0) on May 8.
The Warriors are this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are part of the reason why Penn-Trafford is in third place in the Class AAAA standings.
“I don't think I necessarily had to do anything to keep the guys hungry,” Schall said. “After the first round of our section play, we knew the way the schedule was going to work.
“So I think they are ready to play the last few weeks of the regular season here and see where we go.”
Section 3-AAA is one of the most difficult in the WPIAL. Schall's team has grown accustomed to playing in a playoff-type atmosphere each night.
Norwin and Latrobe (8-1) sit atop the section at first and second, respectively, and Schall knows that competing with each of them will prepare his players for postseason play.
“I think this is a strong section with some very good teams,” Schall said. “I think that will prepare us for the playoffs.
“Throughout the WPIAL you have a group of good teams that I think anybody can beat anybody.”
Senior middle hitter Sam Kavel and junior middle hitter Alex Deutsch have been key cogs in Schall's rotation. Their ability to play at the net and provide consistent kills have given the opposition fits.
Schall said the offensive mentality is to get them the ball.
“The way the rotation works, one of them is always in the front row,” Schall said. “They are opposite each other in the rotation. They hit a quick middle-ball well.
“We pass the ball pretty well, so when we're able to, we like to set both of those guys.”
Sophomore setter Timmy Vecchio is a multi-sport athlete who contributes regularly. Schall said his athleticism makes him a versatile player. Senior libero Dylan Paluzzi brings the leadership and defensive skill set that Schall said any good volleyball team needs.
Schall said he doesn't envy the position opposing coaches are in when it comes to game-planning an attack against his team.
“You have to be able to hit our middle attackers pretty well,” he said. “You have to force our outside hitters to score.
“If I was an opposing coach, I'd try to key on the middle hitters as best as possible.”
The Warriors played in the WPIAL semifinals last season, so they know what it takes to make a postseason run. Ironically, their postseason run began late in the season when they ended on a hot streak.
Schall said it's important the players remember that and strive to finish strong.
“To me, the mark of a good team is how you finish,” Schall said. “At this point, I like our team and yeah we have a pretty good team.
“I'd like to see us do well in our next few matches and make a run in the playoffs because that's where you want to be and it's an exciting time.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.