Deer Lakes boys volleyball motivated by trip to WPIAL title game

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Monday, April 2, 2018 | 7:48 PM


Deer Lakes boys volleyball has progressed further in each year of Tyler Osselborn's high school career. Only one step remains — the biggest one of all, and the Lancers' major motivation.

The desire for the program's fifth WPIAL championship — and first since 2011 — is driving Deer Lakes, last season's Class AA runner-up to Beaver County Christian, and coming so close only heightened that goal.

“To be that close, to get to the game and come out second, that's not what you want,” said Osselborn, a four-year starter along with fellow senior Dan Hutchinson. “You want to go to that game, and you want to win. Especially the way they played against us. That's the way you want to play.

“We were on the wrong side of a good game.”

Deer Lakes advanced to the WPIAL championship match last season and to the PIAA quarterfinals, the Lancers' second consecutive appearance in the state playoffs. They lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2015 and the WPIAL semifinals in '16.

Deer Lakes also won a pair of PIAA titles in 1978 and 2011, something the Lancers are hoping to accomplish this season.

“Every year you play, you want to win. You want to go as far as you can,” Osselborn said. “But just knowing this is the last chance and the last year, obviously you want to start with each goal at a time, like win each game, win the section, and then win the WPIAL. But I'm not going to lie. Ultimately, the end goal is states.”

A strong core of returners will boost Deer Lakes in its goal. Hutchinson and Osselborn made the all-WPIAL first team as outside hitters last season. The seniors play all over the floor.

Joining those two are fellow seniors and returning starters Josh Solomon at setter and Tyler Noble at libero. Seniors Devin Demase, a hitter and back-row specialist, and Chad Tindall also provide experience and leadership for the Lancers. Sophomore Scott Rothrauff adds to the Deer Lakes offense.

One blow to the Lancers' depth came late in basketball season, when Trevor Sutch, who started the last two seasons in the middle, went down with a knee injury. For now, the Lancers are leaning on senior Shane Yurussi, a first-year player, and freshman Devin Reiher to replace Sutch in the middle.

“We definitely have some high expectations,” coach Brady Schuller said. “We made it to the WPIAL finals last year. We're trying to win the WPIAL finals this year. These guys know what it's like to be there. They know what it's like to lose. They know what it's going to take to win. They expect to win this year.”

Those kinds of expectations make the Lancers more closely scrutinize their mistakes. Although the team opened with sweeps over Armstrong, Plum and Summit Academy — the last of which was its Section 2-AA opener — plus a quarterfinal appearance at the Norwin tournament, Schuller said the team's passing needs to improve.

“That want is also sometimes a double-edged sword,” Schuller said. “Sometimes the kids can be too hard on themselves when they have a good game. When they have a good game that might not have been their best, they can get down on themselves a little easier.”

Schuller said he sees improvement on the defense after the team relied heavily on offense in recent years.

“Even since I've been here, offense has kind of been our key,” Osselborn said. “That being said, we've taken that under consideration and have worked on it less and focused more on our defense and the sets feeding the offense.

“I'd like to tell you we're a perfectly well-rounded team, but I don't know that any team out there is.”

And the Lancers should get a bump in competition this week. After a Monday nonsection match at Butler, they'll travel to No. 3 Derry on Wednesday for a section match before hosting Obama Academy on Thursday.

“Our first match with Derry always pushes these guys to reach the next level,” Schuller said. “Last year we started off undefeated, but we started off slow with our passing, and since we play Derry, it ramps up.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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