Connellsville volleyball team looks to build on strong season

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 9:42 p.m.

During his first season as coach of the Connellsville girls volleyball team, Casey O'Brien guided the Falcons to a third-place finish in Section 2-AAA and a trip to the WPIAL playoffs.

Connellsville lost 3-0 to Shaler in the first round of last year's postseason tournament, but O'Brien believes the 2013 season can serve as a steppingstone in the program's development.

“I think we've got a little chip on our shoulder,” O'Brien said. “The girls experienced the playoffs and experienced the loss. They remember it and they are trying to work harder.”

This year's team will be somewhat different from the 2013 playoff squad. The Falcons will be dealing with several big losses. Maria Merendino, Emma Bell, Melissa Kirby and Isabella Sigado graduated.

Fortunately, the team can build around six lettermen. Seniors Megan Kirkpatrick, Emily Means and Saiah Mickens, as well as juniors Kristen Domer and Abbie Siecinski and sophomore Gianna Sigado, have varsity experience and will be heavily relied upon this season.

“They have stayed together all year,” O'Brien said, noting that the group took advantage of the opportunity to play in a club league (Rectagon) and played outdoors throughout the summer at Cat's Courts, an outdoor volleyball facility named in honor of 2011 Connellsville graduate and former volleyball player Catherine Healy, who passed away due to an automobile accident last year. “They've gotten really comfortable playing with each other, and they've worked hard. They all stuck together.”

This year, the Falcons are moving from Section 2-AAA to Section 1-AAA. New section opponents are Franklin Regional, Hempfield, Kiski, Latrobe, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. Hempfield, Penn-Trafford and Norwin were playoff teams last year, with Norwin earning a trip to the state tournament.

The section will be filled with challenges, but O'Brien and the team are looking forward to meeting them head-on.

“The big thing amongst the kids is that they want to get back to the playoffs,” O'Brien said. “But they feel that a better goal is to win the section and make it to the second or third round of the playoffs and get back to when Connellsville volleyball was something to talk about in this city.”

Means, one of the lettermen, is excited to see the fruits of the team's hard work, especially during the offseason.

“We didn't have a break,” Means said. “We never put a volleyball down, so none of us are rusty. We just need to communicate and push ourselves and our teammates.”

O'Brien, who will be assisted by Eric Ressler and Samantha Zavatchen, is hoping that the team can get out of the gate fast.

“I think we're going to be a strong defensive, ball-control team,” O'Brien said. “And we are pretty aggressive. If we are playing well, we'll keep teams on their heels.”

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