Bethel Park volleyball ‘young but competitive’ so far this season

Saturday, September 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM

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

“This year’s team is young but competitive,” coach Brooke Muraco said. “We are excited to see how they will develop and perform throughout the season. With their high energy and enthusiasm, we anticipate bringing a fresh level of competitiveness to the court.

“We do not have a veteran team that has played together year after year as we’ve had in years past. We have some raw young talent that is capable of adapting to the varsity playing level quickly. I have high hopes for the team’s discipline, dedication and teamwork to lead them to success.”

Gabby Gealey, a 6-foot-2 senior setter; Brooke Kessler, a 5-2 senior defensive specialist; and Cassidy Sullivan, a 5-8 junior setter, were back as returning starters for the Black Hawks this season.

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

“I expect our team to compete hard and never give up this season,” Gealey said. “We lost eight seniors from last year, so our team is pretty young, but we have been working hard during practice.

“The good thing about having a younger team is we have a lot of versatile players that are eager to improve. I know everyone on the team will work their hardest throughout the season and push each other to meet their goals. I think the most important thing for a team is to work hard, which we definitely have.”

Another important factor for a team is how the players connect with one another.

“I think the girls really connect with each other on and off the court,” Gealey said. “All the girls do a good job of keeping a positive attitude and keeping our spirits up, no matter the challenge we are facing.

“This is something that will help us compete and become successful regardless of the pressure we are under.”

Seniors Clairessa George and Alayna Owen, both outside hitters, and junior middle hitter Julia Pierson also have been counted on to provide some spark to the lineup for the Black Hawks.

“Clairessa, Alayna and Julia (are) our offensive threats,” Muraco said. “They came in with some varsity experience and are the names of people to watch out for in our lineup. Junior Izzy Cieply (OH/S) is a utility player for us that we feel confident to put just about anywhere on the court to get the job done.”

Sarah Neal is a top sophomore prospect on defense, while other integral players include Hannah Molli, a junior defensive specialist, and sophomore middle hitters Julia Bitkowski and Mia Propcheck.

On a personal level, Gealey, who participates in her school’s symphonic band, said she hoped to steadily improve her game throughout the season to the benefit the team’s overall performance.

“One of my personal goals is to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” she said. “I want to put myself in uncomfortable situations in games or practices so I can learn to adapt and improve my skills. I think it’s important to do this so that I can become a strong and reliable player.”

Bethel Park received the eighth seed in the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs a year ago and edged No. 9 Norwin, 3-2, in the first round. The Black Hawks lost a 3-0 decision to No. 1 North Allegheny in the quarterfinals.

“As always, we hope to finish at the top of the section and earn our spot in the playoffs,” Muraco said. “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.”

Kessler, with a 4.0 GPA, has committed to continuing her career at IUP. She believes the Black Hawks, despite a slow start this season and an overall lack of height on the team, are determined to experience success.

“We aren’t a tall team that others may feel intimidated by,” Kessler said, “but I think how we’ll make things work will be best for us.”

The Bethel Park netters lost three of their first four matches including two in section action.

“I’m excited to see where this season goes,” Kessler said. “Our goals are to just compete, 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.”


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