Elderton boys volleyball legacy lives at West Shamokin
The spirit of Elderton boys volleyball lives on at West Shamokin, where a team exists for the first time in the school's 13-year history.
Maybe a new name will give the team the spark needed to shake up its section's ruling order.
Stuck behind perennial WPIAL powers Deer Lakes and Derry the past four seasons, the Elderton/West Shamokin program — a co-op existed between the schools — managed to make the playoffs but rarely received a favorable seed. First-round exits followed.
There's confidence another playoff berth is on the horizon. But the goal is to get out of the third-place rut.
“Out of the four years I've played, I think this could be our greatest year yet,” said senior outside hitter Damon Craig, whose team went 6-4 in section play last season. “With our talent and our dedication to the game … as long as we stay healthy, I don't think too many people can stop us.”
The supervisor of the group set on a breakthrough season is Craig's father, Scott, who stepped in as coach to succeed Casey Cousins, Ford City's new man in charge. While Scott Craig lacks an extensive coaching resume — an assistant the past several seasons, he is a first-time varsity coach — he has sufficient volleyball chops.
Scott Craig was a senior on the Elderton team that won a section title and placed second in the WPIAL in 1989. He later walked on at Penn State for a season.
“It helped out a lot,” said Scott Craig, who started playing the sport in ninth grade. “I always thought I was higher level until I went there. Then I saw I wasn't close.”
Craig remained involved volleyball after college by traveling the country as a member of a nationally competitive club team based in Western Pennsylvania. He passed his passion for the sport onto Damon, who became one of Elderton's core contributors during the past two seasons.
Damon Craig and seniors Matt Marsh, Kevin Kaplon, Zach Zahorchak and Emil Ihnat return after serving as part- or full-time starters last year. One other returning starter, sophomore Brenden Glover, might rejoin the lineup in a few weeks if the partially torn labrum in his left hip does not require surgery.
A boom in new team members bolstered West Shamokin's lineup in a way few had expected. The Wolves' roster includes nine seniors, seven juniors and four sophomores. Many, such as seniors Kyle Schons and Anthony Rocco, are newcomers to volleyball but possess natural athletic abilities honed in other sports.
“I truly believe we're in the top five or six teams in the WPIAL,” Scott Craig said. “I'm happy with the progress the first-year players and younger guys are making. Some of them have come a long way already.”
Derry and Deer Lakes both enter the 2013 season ranked in the top 10 in the PIAA Class AA by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, so they're the frontrunners for the Section 2 crown.
Scott Craig hopes to stir the Wolves to great achievements with his gruff coaching style. So far, the method has worked, according to the players.
“The practices are more intense,” Marsh said. “I like that approach. It gets us working harder.”
Said Damon Craig: “My dad is definitely a coach that's going to make you work. You're not just going to come to practice and have fun. He's going to make sure you're in shape and ready for anything.”