Chapla, Johnston return to lead Baldwin girls volleyball

Thursday, September 10, 2020 | 10:13 PM

Two mainstays in the Baldwin girls volleyball team are Alexa Chapla and Heidi Johnston.

Both are juniors and third-year varsity players.

Chapla and Johnston are the only returning starters from the 2019 playoff team; seven seniors graduated from that squad.

“I am excited about the team this year,” coach Chris Kelly said. “The girls get along very well and are excited about playing together and for each other. Practices, so far, have been upbeat and positive. I think we have a good chance to make it into the WPIAL playoffs.”

Chapla is a diminutive 5-foot-4 defensive specialist. She has a 4.1 grade-point average and is involved in the Special Olympics program at the high school.

Johnston is an athletic middle blocker and at 5-10 is the team’s tallest player.

“Both Heidi and Alexa have really great attitudes,” Kelly said. “Heidi is very athletic and dynamic as a hitter. With her personality, she has the ability to keep everyone loose.

“Alexa is a very good defensive player. She reads the opposing hitters well and is quick enough to pick up most shots.”

Chapla and Johnston are joined by two other classmates in Taylor Binek and Alayna Meis, a pair of defensive specialists.

“This year’s team has a lot of drive and determination to play at a high level,” Chapla said. “I would love to be section champion this year. After just falling short of it last year, we all want to work even harder to accomplish this goal.

Baldwin volleyball has been working hard and is ready to dominate.”

Johnston agreed.

“The team looks really strong,” she said. “I believe we can make it far like we always do. A goal I’ve always had is to win WPIALs. We’ve gotten really close the past two years and this year we have a really good chance.”

There are 17 girls on the varsity roster, including 10 seniors. The senior class is represented by right-side hitters Courtney Chapel and RS Nina Dongilli; defensive specialists Megan Garda, Rachel Kail, Lyssabeth Linden and Grace Reed; middle blocker Makayla Mangan; setter Jessica Noss and outside hitters Louisa Tiriobo and Bethany Voelker.

Top sophomore prospects in the program include hitter Kay Lindenfelser, setter/right-side hitter Emmalynn Longo and middle blocker Abby Truzzi.

While the Highlanders have been fluid in practice trying to develop a regular rotation, one thing has remained constant.

”The pandemic has impacted us as a team rather significantly,” Kelly said. “We did not have any open gyms until the beginning of July, and then we had to limit the number of girls who were able to participate. I was able to work with small pods (10-15) of girls in one-hour blocks a few days a week. Tryouts were pushed back one week.

“We have to wear masks in and out of the gym. The girls wear their masks as we set up the nets and only once we start practice are they allowed to take them off. The coaches wear masks during practice unless we are instructing. Everyone gets their temperature taken at the door. Once practice starts, it feels like business as usual.”

Chapla and Johnston will attend school two days per week and go online the other days.

Students with last names A to L will attend school Mondays and Tuesdays. Students with last names M-Z will attend Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday is a cleaning day and online for everyone.

“The pandemic caused a delay in our summer workouts and practices,” Chapla said. “We eventually found ways to safely conduct workouts in smaller groups and with masks.

“High school volleyball season will definitely be a lot different this year, but we are all still looking forward to it and are grateful to potentially have a season.”

Baldwin is a perennial playoff qualifier and WPIAL champion contender. A year ago, the Highlanders were ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s final regular-season rankings.

Baldwin is a member of Section 2-AAAA, along with Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Moon, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.

Canon-McMillan won both section and WPIAL titles last season. Baldwin tied for second with Moon with an 11-3 record, then won a 3-0 playoff decision against Connellsville before losing to Moon, 3-2.

The Highlanders are scheduled to play USC Thursday in their home opener, and host Moon at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 19.

“The pandemic hasn’t stopped the team from working extremely hard to be the best we can be,” Johnston said. “We keep our distance and wear masks when we are off the court. Other than that, it hasn’t affected the volleyball season yet.”


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