Elderton looks to spike its competition
Living up to the legacy left by last year's squad won't be an easy task for the Elderton girls volleyball team, and coach Dan Spencer understands that as well as anyone.
"The only thing consistent in the early part of the season will be our inconsistency," Spencer said.
But despite the loss of a quartet of four-year starters from last season, the coach expects it to be business as usual at Elderton.
"I've got a new group of players, but my goals never change," Spencer said. "My goal is winning a section championship, and I'm not letting the girls off the hook."
Last year's team finished 11-1 and was a co-champion in Class A's Section 1. The team advanced to the WPIAL semifinals before falling to Greensburg Central Catholic, 3-1. Elderton also made an appearance in the PIAA playoffs, losing in its opening-round match to Cochranton, 3-0.
Still, 2007 was full of highs, such as when the Lady Bobcats found themselves ranked as the No. 1 squad in the state by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association for a brief period of time in the middle of the season.
"We were a good team," Spencer said. "We were a small team. There was a time when our size was going to hurt us, and eventually, it did in the Greensburg Central match."
Size is one of the major differences with this year's team, which is taller than its predecessor. There are remnants of last year's team, though.
Senior hitter and three-year letterman Chelsea Scrivelli is the team's lone senior starter. Sophomore Paige Baker also started last season, after surprising the coaching staff with her play during her freshman year. Lacey Hohl, the only other returning player with a solid amount of experience, will miss the season after tearing her ACL.
But youth remains one of the defining characteristics of the team. Spencer has three freshmen starting and playing major roles, a change for the coach.
"I have to work this year," he said. "Last year, it was all seniors, and I could just coach. This year, I have to teach."
All in all, things could be worse. Spencer said the team has performed better than he had expected throughout the preseason scrimmages.
"I think we can play competitively with anybody in the middle (skill level)," Spencer said. "But we haven't played anyone yet who is extraordinarily good."
The "extraordinarily good" standard is one that is familiar to the Elderton program. In a coaching career that dates back to the early '90s, Spencer's teams have never finished lower than second in their section. His group of seniors last year lived up to the lofty standards and won four section titles in their careers.
"There wasn't anything they hadn't seen," Spencer said. "They weren't going to be intimidated by anything."
As for how the current group of Lady Bobcats will respond to the high-stakes, high-pressure atmospheres that their predecessors thrived in, the answer is still up in the air. But Spencer will get an idea of what the team is made of when it takes on traditional power Trinity Christian on the road in its season opener Tuesday.
"I'll be anxious to see if we play like we practice," Spencer said. "I think that's one thing about experience; it tells you that the net doesn't get higher and the ball doesn't get bigger. Sometimes, it takes kids a while to realize that."