Hempfield boys volleyball ready to win now

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Sunday, April 7, 2019 | 9:44 PM


With no senior starters, Hempfield’s boys volleyball team feels pretty good about its future.

The Spartans are pretty pleased with the present, too.

Hempfield is off to a 3-0 start in a rugged WPIAL Section 3-3A. The Spartans opened with wins over Armstrong (3-1), Penn-Trafford (3-2) and Penn Hills (3-0).

“It’s very exciting,” Hempfield junior Will Kuhns said. “It’s always a good feeling to be 3-0 to open up the section.”

Kuhns, along with classmates Gavin White and Ryan Horwatt, are three-year starters for the Spartans and provide key experience for a young group that includes juniors Nate Evans and Randy Nelson, sophomores Sean Knight and Anthony Peila and freshman Chaz Ewer in the starting rotation.

“It’s a very young team, but not young. Those guys have good experience,” Hempfield coach John Howell said. “We thought our start might be slower because of the youth and some inexperience, but it’s turned out to be different and that’s exciting.”

The success is not exactly a surprise, though, given the team’s chemistry.

“This group gets along so well. They don’t look at each other as a freshman or a junior — they look at each other as teammates, and that’s the best part of it,” Howell said. “The junior players are really supporting the young players. In our section, you have to have some height to keep up. They know we need these young guys. The young guys are working hard to not disappoint the older guys.

“A lot of these players have played together since middle school. They are really good friends, and that helps chemistry,” he said. “They are all there to help each other and to support each other. The bench players know their roles and are ready to contribute. The chemistry is really positive right now.”

Nelson’s shift back to setter has helped the team. A setter as a freshman, he moved to middle hitter last year but is back at setter this spring.

“He has handled the move well,” Howell said. “He likes being back in that leadership position.”

Nelson was able to move because of the emergence of 6-foot-4 Knight and 6-3 Ewer in the middle.

“It’s really fun. We all get along 100 percent. There is no animosity at all. It’s cool to be all friends and work hard together,” Kuhns said. “We’ve been playing together since middle school, and we’ve come a long way. I think it’s scary for other teams in our section to know that we don’t have a senior on the court. We’ll have the same team next year, too, and I think that’s really cool.”

Despite the youth, Howell has been impressed with the team’s ability to overcome adversity.

“We tend to start off our matches two, three or four points behind and then fight back. That’s a positive sign, seeing a young crew continue to fight forward and to overcome a deficit,” he said. “At one point, we were losing a set to Penn-Trafford, 19-12, and we came back and tied it at 23. I am really happy that they don’t panic. They are very composed as a young team.”

That trait will come in handy in the race for a section title. Penn-Trafford won last year’s championship with a 13-1 mark, and Norwin (12-2), Hempfield (11-3) and Latrobe (8-6) were right behind. All four are contenders this year.

“This year, the section is unbelievable. It’s probably as tough as it’s ever been. There’s no question we are the youngest starting team, by far, too,” Howell said. “We really don’t see this team peaking until the end of the year. There are still a lot of inconsistencies and unforced errors because they are such a young team. There’s still a lot of room for us to grow, and they know that and that’s a good thing.”

The Spartans are aiming for a long run in the WPIAL tournament. They fell to Bethel Park, 3-0, in last year’s quarterfinals.

“Norwin, Latrobe and Penn-Trafford are always great teams, and we have great battles with them. Latrobe, with as many seniors as they have, is going to be very tough for us. We’re looking forward to those tough games so we can compete,” Kuhns said. “The section title has always been a huge goal for us. I think we have the potential to accomplish that. It’ll take some hard-fought wins against tough teams. Playoffs are a big goal, too. We want to get deep in the playoffs this year.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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