Deer Lakes volleyball finding success and stability under 1st-year coach Nypaver

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Monday, October 3, 2022 | 6:11 PM


Four seasons, five coaches. The seniors on the Deer Lakes girls volleyball team have been through it all the past couple of years.

The Lancers sought a new beginning and the foundation for consistency in the program as they began their offseason of preparation.

Mike Nypaver, a student of the game and a veteran coaching presence in volleyball for the past decade, hoped to be that voice and that answer when he was hired as Deer Lakes’ coach in July.

“We were able to get together for some open gyms shortly after I was hired to get ready for preseason practices,” said Nypaver, also in his first academic year as a chemistry teacher at Deer Lakes. “I was happy to see there were a lot of athletic girls and girls with good game experience. I wasn’t sure, at the time, how it was going to flow on the court, but there was a good foundation there where I knew we could do well.”

Fast-forward to now, and Deer Lakes has stabilized itself as a prominent player in Class 2A as it gets into the heart of the second cycle of Section 5 play.

“The summer work was really beneficial, and we also established a good routine,” said outside hitter Delanie Kaiser, one of six seniors for the Lancers and one of four returning senior starters along with middle hitter Kaylee Lipp, setter Jess Sullivan and fellow outside hitter Maddy Friess. “It definitely is more of a stable environment as we work hard every day to get better.”

Nypaver, a 2005 North Allegheny and 2011 Duquesne graduate, has experience coaching girls club volleyball with Pittsburgh Elite and also served as a graduate and volunteer assistant for the Duquesne women’s program for several years.

He also is the boys coach at Mars and will begin his seventh season there in March.

Nypaver helped the Planets, the No. 11 seed for the 2022 WPIAL Class 2A playoffs, pull off a five-set upset of No. 6 Seton LaSalle before falling in four sets to eventual WPIAL champion Montour in the quarterfinals.

After preseason practices and scrimmages concluded, Nypaver was able to see where his new Deer Lakes team stood as the Lancers swept past Class 3A Knoch, a winner of three straight WPIAL titles from 2017-19.

“They are a very good program, and (Knoch coach) Diane (Geist) has been there for a long time,” Nypaver said. “They’ve had a lot of past success. I told the girls that the match was a really good benchmark for where they were at the time. To come away with a win was very promising and something great to build from.”

Deer Lakes, runner-up last year to South Allegheny (11-1) in Section 5, is 8-2 overall and 7-1 in section play heading into Tuesday’s rematch at home with section leader Freeport, the No. 1 team in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 3A rankings.

The Yellowjackets, 8-0 in section play, swept past the Lancers, 3-0, in the first meeting Sept. 8 at Freeport Middle School.

“I had never seen them in person, but I had watched them in the state finals a couple of times on TV,” Nypaver said. “They are just a very polished team. They make very few mistakes. They have a lot of athletic kids. That is just a culture of winning they’ve built there. The first time, I felt we played pretty well, even though it wasn’t close to the result we wanted. I am excited to see where we’ve grown from the first time to (Tuesday).”

“It definitely will be a test of our mental toughness,” Kaiser said. “Freeport is No. 1 in the section and possibly No. 1 in the WPIAL, and it is a huge game for us. We’re really pumped for it. We have to be at our best.”

While Deer Lakes hopes to catch up to Freeport, it also hopes to stay ahead of third-place Burrell (6-2) and fourth-place Derry (5-3) in the second half of section play.

The Lancers suffered a 3-0 nonsection loss to Class 4A North Hills on Sept. 19, but the setback actually was somewhat of a springboard to the rest of the week and key 3-1 triumphs over the Bucs and Trojans.

“I think we played really well against North Hills but fell a little short,” said Friess, an All-WPIAL third team selection last year. “But we really came together as a team, and that momentum and energy definitely carried us over to both of those important wins over Burrell and Derry.”

Friess said the connection is strong between the senior leaders and the younger players making their way in varsity and junior varsity matches.

“The younger players are getting more and more comfortable, and we are seeing that with some smooth play in matches,” she said. “They’ve really stepped up and are a big reason we are where we are.”

Deer Lakes, No. 10 in this week’s WPVCA Class 2A rankings, continues Section 5 matches Thursday at Ligonier Valley.

“I think we are in a great spot as a team,” Sullivan said. “But we’re not satisfied, and, of course, there are things we still need to work on. We’ve learned to work through adversity. We’ve faced it with all the coaching changes. We struggled a little bit early on, but we stuck together, and we’re better off for it.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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