Hempfield boys volleyball team off to surprising start

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Sunday, April 25, 2021 | 4:58 PM


Hempfield boys volleyball coach John Howell is shocked.

There is no way he thought his Spartans would be undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL Class AAA and 10th in the state.

The Spartans returned only two starters — senior middle hitter Sean Knight and junior Chaz Ewer — from the 2019 squad, and he didn’t know what to expect after the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus.

“We graduated a veteran team, so no one expected us to be playing so well,” Howell said. “Team chemistry and determination is what’s carrying us. These guys have something to prove and are determined to show people what they are made of.”

One of those players to graduate is Will Kuhns, who is playing at Penn State. He is the second Spartan to play for the Nittany Lions. Joe Sunder was the other.

With Knight and Ewer, both 6-foot-4, handling the middle, the surprises have come from 6-5 outside hitter Sean Gordon and 5-10 sophomore Owen Kelley. Howell said Kelley plays like he’s 6-3.

Howell describes Gordon as the terminator.

“When we need a point, we go to Sean,” Howell said. “Sean is a power hitter, and Owen is playing well beyond what we expected. He does a lot of things well.”

Also playing well is junior Dominic Hipps and junior libero Nolan Stamford.

“Those two have been pleasant surprises,” Howell said. “Dom worked in the yard with his day when we were off.”

Howell said junior outside hitter Lane Harry, senior outside hitter Zack Nichischer and senior setter Trey Zontek have provided depth.

Hempfield has been off a week because of the coronavirus since finishing second in its tournament.

The Spartans (4-0, 3-0) missed two games this week: Latrobe and Norwin. They are behind No. 1 North Allegheny and No. 2 Seneca Valley.

The reason the Spartans are third because they upset Butler, 3-2. Hempfield has seven section games left.

Howell said he’s learning a lot about his team and finding out who can play under pressure. He said the season has been filled with ups and downs because of the pandemic.

“Missing the 2020 season has leveled the playing field and brought teams closer,” Howell said. “Playing in a tournament helps the players gain experience.”

And the week off came at a good time for Hempfield.

Howell said he was looking to give his players three days off because they’ve worked hard on their skills and conditioning.

“We’re doing better than expected,” Howell said. “No one took us serious because of who we lost. But the team chemistry has been great. These guys know what it takes to be successful.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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