St. Joseph boys volleyball gets start
For Paul Tomlinson, starting a new program never gets old.
Months after guiding the St. Joseph girls volleyball team through its inaugural season, Tomlinson is steering the school's first boys team. The Spartans (1-1, 0-1) are competing in Section 2-AA with Deer Lakes, Derry, Ford City, Summit Academy and Elderton.
"The guys are looking really good," he said. "We've got a nice core of eight sophomores, and we might be able to pull in some other guys as we go."
It's another brave new world for Tomlinson, who is testing the WPIAL varsity waters after starting programs for Holy Sepulcher elementary and middle schools in Butler County as well as a Junior Olympics club team.
"It's the same at any level," he said. "You build a good, solid base and continue to grow."
The Spartans started the new era by beating Brashear at home March 25 before dropping their first section match Wednesday at Elderton. Tomlinson knows too well the inevitable tribulations of first-year programs. The girls finished 1-13 this fall.
"I was expecting to take our lumps, but this is just the start, and I expect every year for the players to improve," Tomlinson said. "You struggle with passing and ball control like many new teams do, and the court presence is going to hurt for a little while, but I really think we can hang with most teams. These guys know it's a lot different that just smacking the ball back and forth in gym class."
Tomlinson's son, 6-foot-3 middle hitter Reid, joins fellow sophomores Leighton Markus and Sam Predabon (6-5) on the front line.
"I'm more worried about trying to adapt as a sophomore playing against mostly seniors," Tomlinson said. "We didn't know how our team was going to perform, but we've been solid so far. I think it's more fun being a first-year team because nobody expects much, so they think they can whip up on you. But we have the talent to prove them wrong."
His father, an outside hitter for the 1984 Penn Hills state championship team, and assistant Cindy Donnelly, who played at the collegiate level, have tested their players in practice.
"We can still give these guys a good workout. We bring our A-game, and they aren't afraid to see somebody bring it to them," Tomlinson said. "A lot of these guys have been playing for years. I wouldn't be surprised to see some postseason activity this season. They have the ability."
Markus said he believes it's just a matter of time until the program proves it belongs — even a group that shares players with the baseball team.
"We have some experienced players from playing winter leagues; it's just the new kids we're trying to break in," he said. "It's just a matter of getting to know each other better on the court, and confidence has a play in it. After we play a bunch of games together, it'll come."