Deer Lakes’ junior-heavy volleyball lineup gaining experience early on

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Monday, April 18, 2022 | 9:22 AM


Deer Lakes’ boys volleyball team had a special season in 2021, going 7-0 en route to winning a Section 2-2A title and earning a trip to the WPIAL playoffs.

It was a senior-heavy group that lost to Thomas Jefferson in the first round of the postseason. Many of the current Lancers were part of that team, though few played a significant role in the team’s success.

They are going through a bit of an adjustment period early this season as they gain varsity experience under first-year coach Kody Putirka.

“We’re young. We don’t have very much varsity experience,” said Putirka, who has been coaching with Deer Lakes since 2014. “We’re still trying to figure each other out, figure out what we can and can’t do. We’re competing with these teams. We lost a close one to Derry, we lost to Gateway, again a close one. There’s a few things we need to work on as a team.”

The Lancers graduated three first-team all-section selections in middle hitter Tristan Hineman and outside hitters Devin Reiher and Paul Zalus, as well as two second-team all-section picks — setter Giavonni Rizzo and middle hitter Dan Stewart. Reiher (first team) and Zalus (second team) were All-WPIAL honorees, and Reiher also earned all-state recognition.

This year’s leaders include senior right-side hitter Kyle Blackwell and a pair of juniors, setter Kyle Penn and middle hitter Sawyer Hadlum.

“They stepped up to kind of lead the team and get everything rolling the right direction,” Putirka said.

The Lancers also have been relying on several juniors in the starting lineup, including outside hitters Mason Metzler and Evan Rothrauff, middle hitter Ryan Sandor and libero Ben Barker.

“I want to make a run this year, obviously, but this is getting them prepared for next year as seniors,” said Putirka, who has coached many of these players since middle school. “I’ll also try and get some of the underclassmen involved this year so it won’t be such a shell shock coming up to the varsity.”

Deer Lakes is off to a 0-3 start after falling to North Catholic, Derry and Gateway. The Lancers also took part in the Norwin and Derry tournaments. At Norwin, they only had three starters available, which allowed some of the younger players to get some experience, Putirka said.

“They were able to surprise everyone; I think they surprised themselves,” he said. “We only lost matches by five points or less. They definitely have the skills. They just have to find themselves.”

At Derry, Deer Lakes lost each set in the pool play round but performed well in the playoff round against Penn-Trafford before falling 26-24.

“Mainly just to get them involved and get going as quick as possible to see what they need to work on themselves and what I need to adjust,” Putirka said of the tournament play.

“It was definitely an eye-opener because it was higher-paced offense than at the JV level.”

Deer Lakes will return to action Thursday at section favorite Plum and will host Mars on Tuesday.

“That should be a good game (at Plum),” the coach said. “Hopefully, the right team shows up that day for us.

“(We want to) just finish strong, win the games we’re supposed to win and maybe make a run at playoffs if everything falls our way. Basically, get everyone prepared for next year.”

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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