Steel Valley volleyball team knocks off Keystone Oaks to continue its rise
The revival of boys volleyball at Steel Valley took a huge step forward Tuesday night.
Behind a career-high 32 kills from first-year player Tyler Lewis, host Steel Valley upended Section 3-AA leader Keystone Oaks, 3-1, to move within a half-game of the lead with two section matches remaining before the start of the WPIAL playoffs.
“If we can take those last two matches against Trinity and Thomas Jefferson, it'll go a long way in people looking at us as a respected volleyball program,” said Lewis, a 6-foot-9 junior middle hitter who also plays basketball.
Not only did Lewis and 6-6 Dom Keyes, a basketball teammate, make the team, they also have played major roles in the Ironmen's resurgence this season.
Steel Valley (13-2, 6-2) moved into a second-place tie with defending section champion Keystone Oaks, but both remained a half-game behind Thomas Jefferson, which improved to 7-1 with a 3-0 Section 3-AA victory over South Park.
While all three already clinched berths in the upcoming playoffs, there still is a lot at stake, mainly seedings for the nine-team field.
“The outcome of this match tonight set us up for a showdown with Thomas Jefferson, provided we can get past Trinity,” Steel Valley coach Alex Hinsey said. “You never want to take a team for granted, but we beat Trinity, 3-0, the last time we played them.”
Steel Valley faces Trinity on Thursday and Thomas Jefferson on Tuesday in advance of the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin May 13.
“We just said at the halfway point of the season that we have five section matches remaining,” Hinsey said. “We won the first, we won the second and this one was the third. Now, we need to keep it going and take the fourth and fifth to have a shot at winning the section.
“This match tonight was like a playoff match.”
Lewis didn't hesitate when asked whether the thrill of beating the defending section leader already had hit him.
“This is the best win we've had all year,” he said.
Hinsey added that it's the best victory for the program in the two years he has been coaching the team.
Steel Valley rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win three in a row. The Ironmen came back from seven points down in the final game to win 25-23 after claiming victories of 25-16 and 33-31 to take a 2-1 lead.
Keystone Oaks opened with a 28-26 win in the first game.
“Every day, we look up at the banner here and remember the history of the sport,” Lewis said. “Our coaches have come in and done a great job of rebuilding this program.”
Steel Valley, a merger of Homestead and Munhall high schools, was a power in boys volleyball, with Homestead winning 15 WPIAL championships and eight PIAA titles, finishing as state runner-up four times under legendary former coach Victor Sullivan.
Steel Valley last won a WPIAL title in 1985, long after the Sullivan era.
Hinsey and assistant coach Matt Hamilton, graduate students at Pitt, took over at Steel Valley at the start of the 2013 season and coaxed four victories out of the team.
Since then, it has been an explosion of success.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.