Inaugural We Serve First all-star event is ‘celebration of volleyball’

Thursday, December 8, 2022 | 7:11 PM

You can’t fault Sydney Joyce if she gets a little emotional or is overcome with nostalgia when she takes the court Friday and Saturday as part of the inaugural We Serve First All-Star Classic girls volleyball event at Kiski Area High School.

“This is very exciting, especially since it is the first one,” said Joyce, who will share the all-star stage with Cavaliers classmates Madalyn Polka, Brynn Bires and Laci Safranyos and 32 other seniors from 17 schools throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and surrounding communities.

“To have it be at a gym where we’ve made so many great memories, I am really looking forward to it. There is some amazing talent that I have seen but never played with or against and also some who I’ve played with and against in club or in section and nonsection matches and high school tournaments. We’re all seniors, and we get to enjoy this last big event with everyone. I think it really is a celebration of volleyball in the area.”

In addition to the players from Kiski Area, seniors were selected from Apollo-Ridge, Armstrong, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Franklin Regional, Freeport, Hampton, Highlands, Knoch, Leechburg, Mars, Plum, Riverview, Springdale and Valley.

“All of these kids have faced each other in matches and at tournament for so many years, and now they all will be together in one gym,” said Tim Toy, executive director of the We Serve First Foundation.

“They will get to put aside school district lines. What I am going to really be paying attention to is how these kids respond to that circumstance, how they do with interacting with one another and with their new coaches. That will be so interesting.”

Earlier this week, two all-star participants — Freeport setter Cassidy Dell and Mars middle hitter Lauren Atwell — received all-state recognition from the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.

Dell and her Yellowjackets teammates, including fellow senior all-stars Ava Soilis and Hadley Hellgren, represented the A-K Valley throughout the PIAA playoffs and brought home the program’s second state championship Nov. 19 with a 3-0 win over District 3 champion York Catholic.

Toy said three of the seniors originally selected, St. Joseph setter Gabby Mason, St. Joseph libero Cassidy Safran and Mars libero Anna Pietrusinksi, will be unable to take part in the all-star event for personal reasons.

Added to the lineup were Safranyos, Armstrong setter Lily Atwood and Plum libero Maya Nonnenberg.

Toy said he hopes several college coaches who were extended invitations to the event will be able to attend and get the chance to observe talent who have not already committed to a school.

The format for the all-star event is a four-team round robin tournament, and the teams will be headed up by Freeport’s Tom Phillips, Butler’s Megan Lucas, Franklin Regional’s Rachel Carter and Leechburg’s Eve Hebrank.

The festivities begin Friday with a practice session at 6 p.m. headed up by Hampton coach Dakota Fickes and Kiski Area assistant Robin Joyce. After a break, the coaches, who will observe the practice, will gather to draft their teams.

“It should be very interesting in the draft room,” Toy said.

Doors on Saturday open at 3 p.m. with introductions and other pre-event announcements at 3:30.

Games will begin at approximately 4. Each team will play a pair of game to 15 against the other three teams, and the results will be used to fill in the brackets towards determining a champion.

The playoff semifinals will be one game to 25 with the finals a best of three.

Awards will be presented for the best defensive player, best setter, best hitter and MVP, along with a teammate award voted on by the players.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students and youth age five and under are free.

Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 724-493-5945.

Proceeds from the event will go to support the We Serve First Foundation’s mission to “seek out young athletes with financial burdens, regardless of their age or skill level, and help them find a love for competition in a team sport.”

“We have the two all-state players, and almost everybody in it has received an all-section or All-WPIAL nod of some sort,” Toy said. “It is going to be good, quality volleyball. I am so amped and excited to bring it to life. We are also excited to learn from this first event and work to make it even better going forward for years to come.”

We Serve First All-Star Classic

Senior Participants

Cassidy Adams, Outside Hitter, Armstrong

Lauren Atwell, Middle Hitter, Mars

Lily Atwood, Setter, Armstrong

Avery Bain, Outside Hitter, Burrell

Taylor Barr, Setter, Burrell

Brynn Bires, Middle Hitter, Kiski Area

Emily Bologna, Outside Hitter, Plum

Bella Burrell, Setter, Springdale

Anna Cibik, Libero, Leechburg

Cassidy Dell, Setter, Freeport

Ella Evans, Middle Hitter, Franklin Regional

Madison Friess, Outside Hitter, Deer Lakes

Alyssa Gallagher, Outside Hitter, Knoch

Addison Gindlesperger, Middle Hitter, Hampton

Hadley Hellgren, Middle Hitter, Freeport

Eve Johnson, Outside Hitter, Highlands

Sydney Joyce, Setter, Kiski Area

Melissa Karastury, Setter, Knoch

Macy Kubla, Outside Hitter, Leechburg

Jillian Lewandowski, Right Side Hitter, Valley

Madeline Mastalerz, Middle Hitter, Leechburg

Madison Nguyen, Setter, Franklin Regional

Maya Nonnenberg, Libero, Plum

Maya Obendorfer, Defensive Specialist, Hampton

Madalyn Polka, Defensive Specialist, Kiski Area

Janiya Potts, Defensive Specialist, Valley

Carli Ramchandran, Defensive Specialist, Franklin Regional

Kate Remaley, Middle Hitter, Armstrong

Laci Safranyos, Defensive Specialist, Kiski Area

Ava Soilis, Libero, Freeport

Kelsey Sprouse, Outside Hitter, Springdale

Jessica Sullivan, Setter, Deer Lakes

Dannika Susko, Middle Hitter, Plum

Brinley Toland, Outside Hitter, Apollo-Ridge

Ava Whitlinger, Outside Hitter, Apollo-Ridge

Megan Yanief, Outside Hitter, Mars

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at

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