Burrell volleyball team hopes to keep momentum going with tough section schedule ahead

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Monday, September 11, 2023 | 9:17 PM


In starting 3-0 overall, 2-0 in Section 5-2A with victories over Ligonier Valley and the Neighborhood Academy, and earning a top-six finish against mostly higher-classification schools at Saturday’s Moon tournament, the Burrell girls volleyball team won 15 of 18 sets to start the season.

The Bucs, senior 6-foot-3 middle hitter Addy Ruscek said, came away from Moon with a ton of strong vibes and momentum. They got more good news Monday as they vaulted to No. 6 in the latest Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 2A rankings. It is an honor voted on by each of the WPIAL’s coaches, so Burrell is getting noticed.

Ruscek said that while there is a lot of excitement surrounding the start to the season, the team’s players understand there still are things to improve on as they face a challenging schedule ahead.

“The standard and expectations were high coming into the season,” said Ruscek, one in a group of four returning starters that also includes senior libero Gia Hornack, senior outside hitter Isabella Greenwald and 6-foot-2 junior middle hitter Pyper Ferres.

“We’ve been pulling through, and we want to keep adding to what we’ve accomplished so far. We are confident in what we can do, but we have to continue to put in the work.”

Greenwald and Hornack are the team’s captains.

Burrell hopes to keep things rolling Tuesday when it pays a visit to a Derry team that also is undefeated in section play (2-0).

“It is going to be a really good test for us against Derry,” Greenwald said. “Derry is an improved team. It should be a good match to see where we are right now.”

Burrell gets its first shot at WPIAL Class 2A No. 1 and defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Freeport in two weeks. But the Bucs, Greenwald said, are in no way looking ahead with section battles against Apollo-Ridge on Thursday and Valley next Tuesday, both at home, before a road section matchup against a Deer Lakes team hoping to return to the playoffs after finishing 10-4 in the section last year.

Burrell finished 11-3 in section play last year, second place to Freeport, which won its 18th straight section crown.

“It’s hard not to look to the match with Freeport, and we’re excited to play them, but we also have to make sure to be prepared for every match on our schedule,” Greenwald said. “There are no easy matches. We have to be ready with our best game every time.”

The Bucs went 1-1 in the WPIAL playoffs last year, defeating Fort Cherry, 3-1, in a preliminary-round match before losing to Quaker Valley, 3-1, in a first-round match.

Offseason momentum took a hit in the spring as two seniors who were hoping to have big years in the starting rotation — right side hitter Rory Pallone and middle hitter Karlee Thimons — went down with severe knee injuries at the same club tournament.

“It was heartbreaking when I got the phone call with the news,” Bucs coach Alyson Shirey said.

Another team member planning for a strong senior season, middle hitter Cassidy Ley, also is out of the lineup with a knee injury.

The hope, Shirey said, is for all three to make it back so they can be in uniform and on the floor in some capacity for at least senior night next month.

“It was tough to lose them,” Hornack said. “We kind of lost our confidence a little bit. But we had the summer to work on some things with the coaches, and a lot of younger players stepped up. We’ve been able to overcome that and see we are a team that can do some great things if we continue to work hard and play together.”

Youth and talent is served, Shirey said, with the strong early play from a pair of starters in sophomore right side hitter Meadow Keyes and freshman setter Delaney Plousnack.

“They really stepped into their roles nicely,” Shirey said.

Burrell opened its season with a 3-0 nonsection win over South Side Beaver before beginning section play with a 3-1 win over Ligonier Valley.

The Bucs led the match with the Rams, 2-0, before losing the third set. The Burrell players regrouped and took the momentum back in the fourth set to close out the match.

“We stayed positive and helped each other out,” Greenwald said. “We didn’t get down on ourselves. All wins are very important in the section, and we knew we needed to get that one.”

Burrell went 5-1 in pool play at the Moon tournament. The Bucs split with Shenango, ranked eighth in this week’s coaches association Class 2A poll, before sweeping a pair of games from Erie McDowell and Allderdice.

Burrell then defeated Allderdice in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out against Knoch, 25-18, in the quarterfinals.

“We got to play a lot of quality teams all day, and we saw how we could perform under pressure,” Hornack said. “We were communicating really well, and our chemistry was on fire. The more sets we continue to play, the better I think we will be.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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