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Derry volleyball coach reflects on Trojans' special season

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 5:51 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Derry's Matt Vasinko spikes on Ambridge's Lee Smith during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.

When the season started, Derry boys volleyball coach Shawn Spencer knew what kind of team he had. He just didn't know how far the team would go.

“I knew coming in that this was going to be a good team,” Spencer said. “What I didn't know is where we would finish.

“There are a lot of other good teams out there.”

The Trojans saw their season come to an end last week with a 3-1 loss to Ambridge in the PIAA Class AA semifinals. Ambridge also defeated Derry in the WPIAL finals last month 3-0.

“My kids competed hard,” Spencer said of the PIAA loss to Ambridge. “They gave it everything they had, but we just didn't play well enough to win.”

The Bridgers took the first set 25-23, then Derry evened the match by taking the second set 30-28. Ambridge won the next two sets to clinch the victory.

The Trojans finished the 2014 season with a 12-2 record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in Section 2-AA competition.

Spencer had an experienced and versatile group of players at his disposal all season. The Trojans utilized several different lineup combinations throughout the year and still managed to rack up victories on their way to the section championship.

The constant through all of the lineup shuffling was senior outside hitter Matt Vasinko, a Juniata College recruit, who set a school record for kills in a career with 1,168.

A three-year starter, Vasinko showed his coach he was an impact player from the time he stepped on the court three years ago.

“As a sophomore, I put him out there with juniors and seniors,” Spencer said of Vasinko. “By the end of the season, he'd found his way and was one of the top two outside hitters on the team.

“He's one of the best players I've had the opportunity to coach.”

This year's crop of seniors is going to be as tough to replace for their actions off the court as much as on it, according to their coach.

“These kids are tremendous volleyball players, but they're quality people too,” Spencer said. “They represented Derry volleyball and the school very well.”

Vasinko led the Trojans in kills this season with 369. Fellow senior Izaak Fulmer-Moffat notched a team-best 270 digs from the libero spot. Junior middle hitter Ian Malis collected a team-high 65 blocks on the year.

Fulmer-Moffat and senior outside hitter Sam Watters combined for 73 aces this season, and junior defensive specialist Jake Zemba dished out 711 assists.

Derry earned a bye in the first round of the WPIAL Class AA tournament. The Trojans beat Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals, then dispatched Beaver County Christian in the semifinals to reach the championship match.

By finishing as the WPIAL runner-up, Derry entered the state tournament as the No. 2 seed from District 7. The Trojans notched straight-set wins against Bishop Guilfoyle and Schuylkill Valley to reach the semifinals.

“This team found a way,” Spencer said. “They rose to the challenge and had an exceptional season.

“I'm proud of them.”

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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