Deer Lakes volleyball on verge of section title

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Monday, October 19, 2020 | 7:11 PM


The Deer Lakes girls volleyball team is one win away from its first section championship since 1991.

The Lancers, at the top of the Section 5-AA standings at 9-1, control their own destiny and will clinch the title with a victory Tuesday at home against Steel Valley.

At the same time, second-place South Allegheny (8-2) faces Derry (5-3).

“We can’t worry about that other match,” senior defensive specialist Cristiana Saldamarco said. “They don’t determine our fate. We control whether we finish off the section title.”

The young Deer Lakes squad has been in control of its own fate throughout the season, and after getting up to speed with several new varsity starters in a new system under first-year coach Victor Morais, the Lancers have built momentum they hope can carry over to the WPIAL playoffs.

“We’ve become a lot stronger with every match,” said Saldamarco, an all-section selection last year with senior teammate and outside hitter Cameron Simurda. “I think we have a lot of potential going into playoffs.”

Saldamarco and Simurda were the only two starters back from last year’s squad.

Deer Lakes, No. 8 in the latest Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA rankings released Monday, have qualified for the WPIAL postseason for the sixth year in a row.

The WPIAL pairings for each of the four classifications are expected to be finalized by Monday and will be revealed on the TribLive HSSN selection show.

Deer Lakes, 9-3 overall, concludes the regular season Thursday with a section match at Valley.

“I told them that (Steel Valley and Valley) are going to want to do whatever they can to stop us from winning,” said Morais, who previously served as the coach for the girls program at Upper St. Clair.

“When you get to the top, that’s the most difficult position, and everyone wants to be the one to beat you. We just need to go in these games this week, starting tomorrow, and just play the way we’ve been playing the whole season.”

Morais was hired in August and began formulating the season game plan.

“When I met them, I saw they had talent,” he said. “I set the target. I looked at the banners and the years they won section titles. I told them I wanted that for them, and that we were going to somehow get there.

“We had to rush the process a little bit. I had some things to change. But the girls were great. They were ready to listen to what I had to say. That’s what helped us put everything together.”

Morais said he saw the foundation form despite the team taking its lumps in a preseason scrimmage against Armstrong.

That foundation and the potential for success was not lost on the players, Simurda said.

“We came in not knowing what to expect because we lost a bunch of seniors, we had a young team and were getting used to a new coach,” she said. “We kind of put ourselves as the underdogs, but we were also hopeful we could be successful and win some matches.

“The scrimmage we had against Armstrong, we were a mess. But from that first game against Derry, we have gained so much confidence.”

Deer Lakes lost its opener to Derry by a 3-2 score, but it rebounded to win seven section matches in a row, including a sweep of South Allegheny, before the rematch with the Trojans.

“In the first game against Derry, I started seeing the changes,” Morais said. “It was a turning point. I believed in them, and they believed in themselves more and more.”

The Lancers made the second chance against Derry count with a 3-1 triumph Oct. 8. The win snapped a six-match losing streak to the Trojans.

“It was such a great win,” Simurda said. “We were so excited. It was nice to win in four games. It seems like we always go to five with them.”

Morias said the team also benefited from games against Class AAA Knoch and Hampton.

“Against Knoch, we didn’t play well, but we took mistakes we made there and learned from them so we could be better in our section,” he said. “Hampton is a very strong team. The girls really challenged themselves with those matches.”

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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