Derry girls volleyball aims to continue long run of postseason berths

Tuesday, September 21, 2021 | 9:45 AM

Call Derry girls volleyball coach Brock Smith a perfectionist of sorts, though it’s far from a flawless setting.

Derry, which is off to a 2-1 start in Section 5-2A, hasn’t won any WPIAL championships in the sport and has made just one appearance in the PIAA playoffs since Smith took over the program in 1998.

The Trojans, at least, have won a few postseason matches, nearly capturing a WPIAL title and advancing to the PIAA playoffs in 2007 and reaching the WPIAL quarterfinals on three other occasions.

“We’ve managed at least to be in some version of the WPIAL playoffs almost every year we’ve been here,” Smith said. “The goal is to be competitive by playoff time. You want to keep this run going.”

A run of 21 postseason appearances.

Smith’s teams at Derry had won nearly 70% of their matches heading into this season, failing to qualify for the playoffs only in his first two years as coach.

His career record was 240-114 (.678).

“I’ve been around and should have a lot of experience, but I don’t consider myself a master,” Smith said. “Every play is different, and every day is different. Particularly with high school athletes, the ability for leaders and teams to step up is a luxury. It’s nice when you have players who, when the chips are down, will say, ‘Enough is enough. Calm down.’

“Sometimes it’s easier said than done. As a coach, all you can do is direct and try to correct.”

With 10 seniors, Derry’s experience should take over this year. Smith said the Trojans “have the ability to play with the better teams.

“But it’s a different setting these days.”

About half the team’s seniors, Smith said, have stood out by consistently setting examples with such things as attending offseason training sessions and focusing on court management.

He pointed out his roster woefully lacks size, though he said he’s most concerned with his players’ overall well-being.

“We’re inconsistent in various aspects. For example, the ability to talk on the court is sometimes strenuous. That can give you problems,” Smith said.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of social media and its effects on a generation clearly swayed by its influence.

“Twenty years ago, you didn’t seem to be dealing with such emotions,” Smith said. “There are so many distractions high school athletes these days bring onto the court. The better teams are able to deal with it much better than others.”

At least one unrelated concern is the loss of senior libero Sydney Williams to a season-ending ACL injury in the preseason. Faith Shean, another senior, has been filling the void admirably, Smith said.

Senior setter Megan Baker is Derry’s unquestioned leader, Smith said.

“She’s the quarterback. She lettered as a sophomore and started as a junior. She has come in and consistently been a hard worker. She’s very competitive and brings that fire to the game … sometimes a little headstrong. But it all starts with her.”

Smith also is counting heavily on outside hitters Hannah Ruffner, another senior, and junior Sasha Whitfield.

Others returning from Derry’s regular rotation of a year ago, when the Trojans posted a 5-5 record, including an opening-round playoff loss to Neshannock, are middle blockers Tianna Moracco, Keely Siko and Keera Will; opposite hitter Makenzie Eades; defensive specialist Jessica Uschak; and outside hitter Marissa Weimer, all seniors.

“We’re loaded with seniors this year,” Smith said. “I’ve got large crews for varsity and JV teams. Some people rise up and learn, and I’ve got some kids who aren’t learning as fast as they need to. In volleyball, boom, boom, boom, you have to learn it quickly. My job is to get us to become a better ball-control team.” We’ve just got to continue to go to practice and work on little things that will make us better.”


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