Fox Chapel girls volleyball hopes aggressive approach works

Sunday, September 15, 2019 | 5:48 PM

When describing how aggressive to be when spiking a volleyball, Fox Chapel coach Phil O’Keeffe likes to use a baseball analogy.

He tells his team if a pitcher that has a 100 mph fastball but is afraid to use it and lobs 75 mph pitches over the plate, the pitcher is likely to get lit up.

The same lesson can be applied to swinging for kills at the net.

O’Keeffe wants his team to swing hard. Too many times he has seen players settle for just getting the ball over the net only to have it smashed back onto their side of the court.

He said if his hitters unleash their power, it could tip the scales in their favor.

“Sometimes they are tentative and afraid to make a mistake, and I tell them the mistake is just keeping it in, because it’s not working,” O’Keeffe said. “When we just get the ball over, I see girls on the opposing teams that just crush it right back at us, and I tell them that should’ve been us doing that and getting the point.

“Against the good teams, just getting the ball over is not going to work. We are trying to get them to use the physical attributes that they have to the best of their potential.”

O’Keeffe is in his third season as girls coach and is the long time boys volleyball coach at Fox Chapel. He’s trying to instill a more aggressive mindset when it comes to attacking at the net. He credited assistant coach Diana Andreyko, who is Pitt’s all-time kills leader, a former professional player in Europe and a two-time WPIAL champion at Baldwin, with helping the girls become more aggressive.

Senior captain Jessica Klein, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter, agrees with O’Keeffe’s assessment when it comes to hitting. Along with fellow hitters Madison Henninger (opposite/middle) Joanna Delaney (middle), Allison Hager (middle), Eliza Auffenberg (Middle) and Lauren Himmel (opposite), Klein has worked in practice on making stronger hits while continuing to be accurate.

“When you’re swinging, you should be swinging to get the kill every single time,” Klein said. “When we’re just putting the ball over the net, we’re just asking them to put the ball away. That’s something (O’Keeffe) has tried to teach us. He’d rather us hit the back wall and it be a good swing going all out for a point than just getting it over and having it shoved right back into our throat.”

Fox Chapel (0-4) plays in Section 1-AAAA with four of the top six teams in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches rankings. North Allegheny, the two-time defending champion, is the top ranked team. Pine-Richland is ranked second, Shaler is fourth and Seneca Valley is sixth.

The Foxes led 2-0 in their opener against Seneca Valley, but an injury to setter Kate Heidenreich forced lineup changes and the Raiders rallied for a 3-2 victory. O’Keeffe said the Foxes were competitive in the first two sets in a 3-0 loss to Pine-Richland but couldn’t do enough to get a win.

Being competitive early against strong teams despite not winning has been an encouraging sign.

“It’s pushed us to work harder in practice, because we know we are so close,” Klein said. “We know we have the ability to finish and win those games. It’s just a matter of pushing that extra little bit and working out some technical issues. We aren’t losing steam.”

Rachel Ferris has filled in at setter in Heidenreich’s absence, and O’Keeffe has been pleased with her performance. He’s hopeful Heidenreich can return Tuesday.

Abigail Kieffer, a co-captain, is the libero, and Emma Begg is the back row specialist.

O’Keeffe said his team is close to putting it all together.

“Getting them to believe in themselves is half of the battle, and it’s something that is not going to come from us as coaches,” O’Keeffe said. “It’s got to come to come from them succeeding at some point. Hopefully, that’s sooner rather than later.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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