It’s been an interesting SOL volleyball season so far.
While some things have changed, some things have remained very much the same. This week’s notebook will look at a pair of teams that are off to a fast start and several that have interesting stories to tell.
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Falcons reload - Pennsbury may have lost the SOL’s top two players from last year in Ryan Bigos and Tor Covello, but the defending district champs still boast plenty of talent. Sparked by the defense of all-state senior libero Justin Mueller and the superb net play of juniors Joe Yasalonis and Jeremy Rhoads, both of whom were key varsity contributors last year, the Falcons are off to a 7-0 start – good enough for a number six ranking in the PA Volleyball Coaches state poll.
Veterans Noah Prickett and Adam Flick are also making important contributions.
Coach Justin Fee has done some moving and shaking to his lineup at the net since the start of the season.
Prickett, who has been a starter since last year’s district title match, played right side during the off season and in the early weeks of the season but has been moved back to the left side. Yasalonis, who started the year in the middle, is back on the right.
Flick, a starter last year in the middle, didn’t play in the offseason and was slowed by injuries at the beginning of the season. He has since regained his spot in the starting lineup, joining B.J. Cummings in the middle.
It’s a lineup that has proven to be effective.
The Falcons – despite dropping a pair to Conestoga Valley in pool play - won the championship at the Wilson West Lawn Tournament the second week of the season. They defeated Elizabethtown in the title match.
Pennsbury also notched an impressive 3-1 win over Northeastern, the fifth ranked team in Class AA state poll. The Falcons lost the first game (20-25) but won the next three.
“It was nice to play a traditionally great team,” Fee said. “They run almost the same system we run. They’re just a really good program. We were happy to be able to go up to their place and get a win.”
This year’s Falcon squad boasts a standout junior class with four solid seniors and some promising sophomores but no incoming freshmen.
“The success may come to an end at some point, but the expectations will always be there,” Fee said. “If we can get kids to come out, we think we can get a good team going.
“Kids play lacrosse, and more kids are playing baseball, and it’s been tough getting kids out for volleyball. Even with the success we’ve had, it’s been tough getting kids to come out.”
Don’t look for the well to go dry at Pennsbury any time soon.
Covello receives hero’s welcome – Tor Corvello returned to the neighborhood on Friday night when his Penn State squad traveled to Princeton for a match. Coach Justin Fee and some of his players made the trip to Princeton to see the former Falcon.
“Kids that are playing for the first year went, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I never knew volleyball could be played at such a fast pace,’ and they were so excited to see such a high level game,” Fee said. “After the game, little kids were having him (Covello) sign volleyballs. It was really neat to see.”
The defending national champions swept the Tigers 3-0 (30-16, 30-19, 30-18), and Covello set the third game.
Ram tough - The surprise team in the season’s early weeks has been Pennridge. The Rams have sprinted out of the gate to an 8-0 mark in Continental Conference play. Last week, they finished second in the Christopher Dock Tournament, downing Dock in the quarterfinals and William Tennent in the semis. The Rams were defeated by Freedom in the title match (2-1), but it had been quite a showing for a team that was 5-3 in pool play.
“We show up when we’re playing good teams,” Pennridge coach Dave Childs said of his team’s strong showing after a sixth place finish in pool play. “We take some teams for granted, and they sneak up on us.
“Once the playoffs came, I knew we would show up. I wasn’t sure if we could maintain that level through the finals, but we did. We beat a very good Dock team and a very good Tennent team too.”
The Rams have defeated a lot of good teams en route to a perfect record in SOL play, which includes sweeps of Souderton, Quakertown, Central Bucks South and Central Bucks East. North Penn is the lone team to extend the Rams to five games in SOL play, and that came in the first match of the season.
“I knew we had the potential to be good, but with the team being so young, especially with a sophomore setter (Will Jager), I wasn’t sure how quickly we would be able to reach that potential,” Childs said. “Will has a lot of things to work on, but he’s doing what he needs to do right now to get the job done.”
While many expected the Rams to rely primarily on their outside hitters – Austin Jacoby and Zech States, they also are getting impressive contributions from middle hitters Ben Nyce and Jon Algeo.
“That’s been a key to our early success,” Childs said. “We have been able to get the middles going, and even more recently, Cory (Chinnici) on the right side has gotten more swings.
“I figured early in the season we would have to just push the ball outside until we got our middles going with the new setter and got that kind of chemistry. They’ve been working on it throughout the year, and it’s been a surprise that we’ve gotten our middles going early. We have five good hitters. We just need to get the ball to them in the right spots.”
Childs is especially pleased with the performance of Algeo, who suffered a knee injury last season and is still not fully recovered.
“Jon improved a lot since last year,” Childs said. “He’s been dealing with some injuries, and for him to be doing what he’s doing during that is a nice bonus for us.
“I try and rest him when I can, but he’s important to us, and he’s been playing great, so it’s hard to take him out of there.”
The long and the short of it – North Penn’s Bhavit Vora and Kevin Cannon are quite a pair. Vora – at 6-7 – is a middle hitter for the Knights while the 5-7 Cannon is a fiery defensive specialist.
Both have played a significant role in the Knights’ 4-2 start. Last Monday, the Knights swept Central Bucks South in three straight after falling behind 22-15 in game one. The tide turned when Vora delivered three consecutive blocks from the middle of the net late in the first game.
By the time the night was over, Vora had eight blocks and had established himself as a force in the middle.
“Coach told me to take a bigger step during blocks, but other than that it was all instincts,” he said. “That (blocking) is my job. I’m 6-7 – we have enough hitters on this team. If I can block the ball, it will help.”
Vora admits that playing varsity for the first time this year was an adjustment.
“I think I wasn’t up to game speed, but the speed came back today somehow,” he said.
Perhaps no one appreciated Vora’s effort more than Cannon, who will sacrifice his body to keep a ball from touching the court.
“It makes defense so much easier when our big guys in the front step up,” Cannon said. “We’re so tall as a team, and we’ve been struggling to block up until really this game. Hopefully this will continue for the remainder of the season.”
Cannon, according to coach Kevin Eck, is the Knights’ most vocal player, but he’s much more than that.
“On the rare occasion, he makes an error – I can’t think of a time where he’s ever had two errors in a row,” Eck said. “He wants the ball every time it comes over the net, and whatever it takes, he’ll do that.”
“He is a player that does not want that ball ever to touch the court,” assistant coach Brian Christopher said. “He will cover every corner of that court, and he won’t stop until someone calls for the ball. Kevin knows if he can get it, he’s going to do it.”
Kyle Sindig led the Knights’ attack with 12 kills.
Eck was most pleased with his team’s mental toughness.
“They were down,” he said. “They knew they weren’t playing real well, and they had a choice – they could either step up their game or they could continue down the path and go through the motions.
“Today was the day they stood up, and they displayed that mental toughness.”
‘Seven is enough’ – Give coach Chad Gough high marks for ingenuity. The Truman coach has just seven players on his varsity roster with no jayvee, but he somehow manages to hold productive practices. Gough has the challenge of traveling to Truman for practices, and until he arrives, Vince Rime and Jay Patel set their teammates, so they can get some swings in. After that, time is devoted to practicing serving.
“We try and focus on one part of the game,” Gough said. “Whether it’s communication, whether it’s transition, whether it’s covering or whatever it may be, and then we scrimmage.”
Scrimmages consist of four v. six as Gough, his assistant and the team’s manager also take part.
“We work with what we’ve got,” the Tigers’ coach said. “We’re doing the best we can, and we’re having a good time.”
Gough would get no argument from senior Jordan Thayres, who decided to join the team this year for the first time.
“It just seemed like a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
“There’s never a dull moment,” fellow senior Jon Vittorio said.
And the toughest part of playing on a team with seven players?
“The toughest part is not having separate people to play different positions,” Vittorio said. “We don’t have anyone to sub in. Other teams have back row players, and they can sub out their front row players. We don’t have that.”
Thayres offered a more lighthearted response.
“You have to chase all the balls down,” he said with a laugh. “You don’t have anybody to get them.”
Still, they're managing to have fun, and on this squad with just seven players, that is paramount.
Rock solid – Council Rock North lost its number one setter, Brendon Patton, to a broken arm earlier this season. That hasn’t stopped senior outside hitter Andrew Hinton, who was named to the All-District One squad last year, from having a good season.
“He’s been doing a real nice job,” coach Mike Flaherty said.
Defensively, the Indians are led by libero Justin Devitt. Middle blocker Hunter Stevens – just a sophomore – has been Rock North’s top blocker in the middle of the net.
The Indians’ biggest win of the season came when they defeated William Tennent on its home court (3-2).
“They’re a very well-coached team,” Flaherty said. “He (Jim Creighton) has a really nice program. Those kids work extremely hard. We had our hands full.
“We had to find a way to win, and we were very fortunate. A comment I have been using with the kids is – we respect everyone, and we’re trying not to be afraid of anyone. That match was a real test for them.”
Making the night even more special was the fact that it also was a fundraiser with proceeds donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
“There has been animosity between teams in the past, and we don’t want to live in that kind of world,” Flaherty said. “Tennent is a very similar team with really nice kids.
“We thought this would be a good match to ask them to do it with us.”
Last weekend, Tennent exacted a degree of revenge when the Panthers won a pair from the Indians in pool play at the Dock Tournament. Rock North didn’t make it out of pool play, and Tennent, which was 7-1 in pool play, was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Pennridge.
Redskins crowned champions – Neshaminy captured the championship in the Reading Tournament on Saturday, downing SOL rival William Tennent 2-1 in the title match (18-25, 31-29, 15-9). In pool play, the Redskins swept Reading and Eastern York and split with both Tennent and Elizabethtown for a 6-2 mark. They went on to defeat Eastern York in a one-game semifinal 25-23.
Leading the attack for the Redskins were senior opposite Ethan Chase (28 kills in 67 attempts, .299 hitting average) and senior outside Ryan Vaccaro (20 kills in 53 attempts, .321 hitting average). Junior setter Brent Jamison had 64 assists to go along with 11 kills in 27 attempts (.295 hitting average). As a team, the Redskins had a .252 hitting average.
The championship gives the Redskins a confidence boost heading into Wednesday’s match against archrival Pennsbury.
Win of the week – Central Bucks South rebounded from what could have been a devastating 3-0 loss to North Penn to earn a big 3-2 win over Souderton (19-25, 26-24, 25-23, 16-25, 16-14).
"It's interesting about the team - in practice they have all the high standards, but when they get to games, it doesn't cross over out of the practice gym into the games," coach Mark Bohling said. "I think that (Souderton win) was the first sign of us putting it together.
"North Penn was very disappointing to all of us."
Bohling pointed to his team's serve receiving as a key to the win.
"We were able to pass their best server," the Titans' coach said. "As soon as they got the confidence that they could pass their best server, it became almost fun for them to do that.
"We were able to serve to a couple of players on their team that weren't on their games and get a bunch of points off of serves."
Bohling credited setter Mike Adamson and left side hitter Luke Mitchell for their contributions in the big win.
"Souderton was a big point where the setter started clicking with the hitters," Bohling said of Adamson, who was the team's defensive libero last season. "Luke Mitchell has been lights-out for us in most matches. He has been our one consistent player until that Souderton game when everybody started clicking. He had a tremendous number of kills and some aces."
A surprise contributor was middle hitter Everett Zaluski.
"He came off the bench in the first game and played all the way to the fifth game," Bohling said. "He had a phenomenal game - enough to bump him into a starting position."