Bethel Park girls volleyball building foundation for upcoming season

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Saturday, July 22, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Excuse the members of the Bethel Park girls volleyball team if they occasionally sneak a peek at HGTV.

“We have an inexperienced varsity roster, but we have been dedicated to improving and building a solid foundation for the team in the gym this summer,” coach Brooke Muraco said. “The plan is to improve and build as the season progresses.

“We graduated seven seniors and four were starters. We do not have a veteran team that has played together year after year as we have had in years past. We have some raw young talent that is capable of adapting to the varsity playing level quickly.”

Senior team leaders for the Black Hawks include defensive specialist Brooke Kessler and setter/right-side hitter Gabby Gealey.

“Brooke is a great vocal leader and a motivator for the girls,” Muraco said.

Kessler and Gealey are returning starters, as is junior setter Cassidy Sullivan.

“I’m excited to see where this season goes,” Kessler said. “Our goals are to just compete all season, do our best to win as many games as possible and, of course, have fun. I think these goals are very reasonable and definitely achievable. We aren’t a tall team that others may feel intimidated by, but I think our way of winning and how we’ll make things work will be best for us.

“This offseason, a lot of our players took part in club volleyball. We would travel to tournaments competing against teams from all around. We had a few players even go to nationals this summer. And our boosters also scheduled a camp with some college coaches that take a few days out of their week to come train us and help us improve as players.”

Seniors Essa George and Alayna Owen are competing for spots on the outside while Julia Pierson and Isabella Cieply, both juniors, also are in the running for a spot in the lineup.

George assumed a starting role in her team’s final match last season against North Allegheny due to a teammate’s injury.

“She played poised and exceptional,” Muraco said.

Senior leadership on the 2023 Bethel Park squad will be provided by the likes of Kessler, Gealey, George and Owen.

“The four girls in our senior class do a great job of being leaders on and off the court,” Kessler said. “Leadership goes a long way and everyone steps up when needed.

“The majority of our varsity players, if not all, play for club teams which helps a lot within high school volleyball. Another strength we have is that many of us have played together in the past. All of the girls are very dedicated, as well.”

The 5-foot-1 Kessler, who has a 4.0 GPA, already has given a commitment to attend and continue her career at IUP.

“The first things about IUP that I really liked were the campus and the school,” Kessler said. “I love how it isn’t too close to home, but also not too far either. That makes it easy for my family to come support me and even visit me whenever.

“I love the girls on the team and how welcoming they are, but the biggest thing that made my decision so easy was the coaching staff. The coaches not only dedicate their time to the team, they make you part of the family.”

Bethel Park was a veteran squad in 2022 with eight seniors and three juniors. The Black Hawks finished 10-6 overall and 6-4 in Section 2-4A. Peters Township and Canon-McMillan tied for first at 9-1.

“At the end of last season my expectations for this year weren’t really that high, but now that we’ve been in the gym working throughout the summer they have definitely gone up a lot,” Kessler said. “Our team is expected to be one of the underdogs in the section since we lost so many of our starting players, but I don’t doubt that we have a good shot this year.

“Although we lost so many seniors, so did a bunch of other teams. We have a lot of talent coming up from our JV team to fill (some of) those missing spots, and I have no doubt those girls will be able to step up and help lead our team to success. We have all the positions we need; now, we just have to piece them together and work together as a team.”

Bethel Park received the eighth seed for the WPIAL playoffs a year ago and edged No. 9 Norwin, 3-2, in the first round before losing a 3-0 decision to No. 1 North Allegheny in the quarterfinals.

“I think overall we had a good season,” Muraco said. “We fought through a lot of competitive games that ended closely.

“As always, we hope to finish at the top of the section (this season) and earn our spot in the playoffs. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of work and dedication, but I believe the girls have it in them to come out every match fighting for a win.”

Grace Lejeck, a 5-10 senior outside hitter, and Sophie Puzausky, a 5-11 senior right-side hitter, were chosen second-team all-WPIAL and first-team all-section in 2022.

Gealey was a second-team all-section selection a year ago.

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