Latrobe boys volleyball looks to gain momentum after rivalry win

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 | 12:01 AM

Latrobe and Derry high schools, perhaps while not always preferring to be, are linked in the WPIAL, despite their varied classifications. For instance, their football teams frequently have squared off in season openers and they routinely have wrestled one another in front of some of the most spirited crowds around.

More often than not, you can find the neighbors competing on opposite sides in so many other sports, including boys volleyball.

“It the backyard brawl for bragging rights for another year,” Latrobe coach Drew Vosefski said, ignoring Derry’s smaller enrollment numbers and lower PIAA classification.

“It doesn’t matter what our record is during the regular season, our guys will get up to play Derry as if it was the national championship,” he said.

At 4-4, Latrobe, with lots of new faces in different positions, will attempt to move past a 3-0 loss to Norwin last week with a trip to Penn Hills on Thursday in a WPIAL Section 3-3A match.

Maybe the whitewashing from once-beaten Norwin caught Latrobe’s players in a daze after the Wildcats claimed a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Class 2A Derry in their previous match?

“I’ll tell you what that match means to us,” Vosefski said of that ‘backyard brawl.’ “I had a player — a starter — who, at the beginning of the match, told me he wasn’t feeling well. I was ready to adjust the lineup, and he said, ‘No, coach, I have to play this match.’ ”

The player, whose name Vosefski did not reveal, made multiple trips off the court to rest and regroup, the coach said.

“After the second time he left the court, I decided he needed to be done,” Vosefski said. “He said, ‘No, no, please, I’ve got to be there,’ and he finished all four sets.”

Vosefski said the player all night struggled with stomach issues but played as though nothing would stop him. After all, this was the heralded Latrobe-Derry confrontation.

“If you wanted to know what an intense rivalry really is, you should have been there,” Vosefski said.

Latrobe won the first two sets, 25-22 and 25-19, but couldn’t sweep the host Trojans, whose gym is a 7-mile drive from Latrobe’s.

Derry fought back from a deficit in the third set to tie the score 23-23 before the teams worked overtime in Derry’s 28-26 victory.

The night, however, was too much for Derry, as Latrobe coasted in the fourth and deciding set, easily winning 25-13.

“Members of the communities and student bodies know what this rivalry means,” Vosefski said. “We always get good crowds.”

Added Derry coach Shawn Spencer: “The kids have a pretty good understanding of the tradition that volleyball has had here.”

The Class 2A Trojans have won one WPIAL championship (1988) and three PIAA crowns (’95, ’88 and ’86), all before the PIAA divided boys volleyball schools into two classifications.

Latrobe, seeking its first title at any level, returned four starters this season — two seniors (outside hitters 6-foot-1 Enzo Rodi and 6-3 Brennan Ward) and a pair of juniors (5-10 setter Josh Havrilla and 6-2 middle hitter Tyler Nelson). Havrilla was named a player of the week this week by the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.

“Those two seniors give us the bulk of our scoring,” Vosefski said. “They have such great athletic ability and a drive to be considered among the best players in the WPIAL.”

With a large junior class on hand, Vosefski is looking for a breakout year next season while continuing to mentor the current group.

Havrilla, who moved from defensive specialist a year ago, offers a look at Latrobe’s versatility. Nelson, another example, made an adjustment this year to an opposite side of the court.

“Unselfishly, he agreed to be on the right side,” Vosefski said. “He’s done very, very well.”

Newcomer Rocco Marino, a Latrobe hockey player with a budding interest in playing volleyball, has been a pleasant surprise to the Wildcats.

The 6-3 junior opposite, “took a shine to volleyball last year,” Vosefski said, partly because Marino’s sister, McKenna Marino, plays for Vosefski’s girls volleyball team at Latrobe.

“Rocco has done very, very well,” Vosefski said.

Then, he said, “You get that person that comes out of nowhere,” referring to 6-0 sophomore Sam Kiesel. “He went from being the best JV outside hitter (as a freshman) to being the starting varsity libero. The kid touches everything.”

Other juniors making an impact, according to Vosefski, are defensive specialists Ruben Rojas and Cameron Baker and 6-4 middle blocker Isiac Waszo.

“You don’t realize the athleticism these guys have,” Vosefski said.

“I will put my guys up against any other sport at any school to show their desire and will. All that tells me is we have committed young men, and the future is bright.”

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