All-section selections, playoff win highlight Thomas Jefferson boys volleyball season

Sunday, June 6, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Five members of the Thomas Jefferson boys volleyball squad were rewarded for their performance this season by being named all-section.

Shawn McSwiggen, a 6-foot-6 junior outside hitter/defensive specialist, and seniors Joaquin Gardner-Gotera, a 6-2 middle hitter, and Brayden Andrisko, a 5-9 libero, were voted to the first team. McSwiggen also earned first-team All-WPIAL honors, and Gardner-Gotera was a third-team selection.

Adam Weidmann, a 6-5 junior outside hitter, and William Stewart, a 6-4 freshman middle hitter, were second- and third-team selections, respectively.

The Jaguars advanced to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs where they soundly defeated No. 6 Deer Lakes, 3-0, in the first round before dropping a 3-0 decision to Ambridge.

“Our overall performance was outstanding even though we had to deal with covid contact tracing at midseason,” TJ coach Frank Staffen said. “We lost two outside hitters and a setter, which caused us to lose (three matches). The players had to sit out because of contact tracing and weren’t allowed to participate. We were running half varsity and half JVs for those games.”

Thomas Jefferson tied for third in section play, received the No. 11 seed for the playoffs and finished 10-8 overall.

“We got a very low seeding for the playoffs and had to go against Deer Lakes at Deer Lakes,” Staffen said. “The drive there was longer than the game.

“I felt we were closer to being a five or six seed and would have loved to have a playoff game here at TJ. Even with the losses, I still thought we would have ended up seventh or eighth.”

The Jaguars fell to Ambridge in the WPIAL quarterfinals. The Bridgers were seeded No. 3 in AA.

“They did a good job in keeping us off balance,” Staffen said. “We couldn’t get our offense going.”

Despite losing nine seniors to graduation this year, TJ’s veteran coach has great expectations for 2022.

“I am looking forward to next year,” Staffen said. “Things are looking up in more ways than one. A couple of the players are planning on playing club volleyball over the summer.

“It is hard to lose a lot of seniors, and most of them have been with the team three or four years. I have three very tall hitters returning, and I truly believe the best is yet to come.”

Staffen will be counting on McSwiggen, Weidmann and Stewart in 2022, along with the likes of freshman setter Aaron DeNardo and freshman libero J.J. Salaman.

“Overall, I believe our team could have done better,” McSwiggen said. “We were performing great out of the gate of the season, playing at a high level. But we had some conflict due to contact tracing and a few of our key starters had to quarantine for some games through the middle of season. That caused a bit of a detour, and we did not recover very well.

“We still made it to the playoffs and got our first playoff win in six years against Deer Lakes. Then in the second round, we lost to a good and well-coached Ambridge team.”

McSwiggen, also a basketball standout at TJ, anticipates next year’s volleyball team to make a serious run a section crown.

“I definitely believe we have really good shot at the section title next year,” he said. “Seton and Trinity had a lot of good seniors graduate, and I think it finally will be our turn to win the section. We have a lot of returning players. We also have a couple of junior varsity players that will definitely step into next year’s rotation and be ready to play.

“I have been recruiting other athletes at TJ to give volleyball a chance and try out for next year’s team. That could have a big impact on the team and bring some good athleticism to the table.”

Other potential returning impact players for the Jaguars in 2022 include juniors Ian Karel (S/DS) and A.J. Getsy (DS/OH), sophomores Chris Bobak (OH) and Alex Fedorchev (MH) and freshmen Mikhail Lapitski (OH) and Alex Blaker (DS).

TJ was ranked ninth in Class AA in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association final regular season rankings.


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