Leechburg volleyball building to section showdown

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Monday, October 12, 2020 | 7:42 PM


The Leechburg girls volleyball team has lost only one match this season.

That came at the hands of WPIAL Class A power Greensburg Central Catholic by a 3-1 score on Sept. 24.

The Section 4-A rivals meet again next Tuesday on senior night at Leechburg.

While the Blue Devils are excited for that match and the potential ramifications for the section and beyond, senior setter McKenna Pierce said she and her teammates cannot and will not look past a pair of section matchups this week against Apollo-Ridge (4-4) and Trinity Christian (5-3), two teams that are looking for victories to bolster their playoff resumes.

“Coach (Eve) Hebrank is really good about getting us to think in the here and now,” said Pierce, an all-conference selection last year. “We are totally focused on Apollo-Ridge and Trinity Christian. They are really good teams. We beat both the first time around, but we know they will come with their best games this time.”

With a young roster — Pierce and libero Skylyn Rapush are the only seniors — coming back after losing seven to graduation from last year’s playoff squad, including four all-conference performers, expectations were guarded.

But, Hebrank said, optimism continued to grow from the return of leaders such as Rapush and Pierce as well as younger players on the 10-person roster stepping up and making an impact.

“We really had a focus on rebuilding after losing those seven seniors, but the girls came in and were ready to play,” Hebrank said. “They were anxious to get going because of all the delays. They knew there were some big spots to fill and that any spot was up for grabs, and they just rolled with it. A couple of girls shocked us a little bit. This team has been playing with such good chemistry.”

Leechburg, No. 6 this week in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association WPIAL Class A rankings, won its first four matches, including section victories over Riverview, Apollo-Ridge and Trinity Christian before the first go-around with GCC. The Centurions, No. 3 in the Class A rankings, are 7-0 in the section and have won 42 consecutive section matches dating to the 2017 season.

“Ultimately, we wanted to beat (GCC), but at least we wanted to take a set off them, which we did,” Pierce said.

In the first matchup, GCC won the first game, but the Blue Devils responded to tie the match with a victory in the second game.

“That was nice to see the girls play hard in that match,” Hebrank said. “We’ve gotten closer and closer each year of possibly knocking them down a peg. That second set, we really won the serving game. Our percentage was higher. These girls are really good at placing their serves. When we do that, it’s usually in our favor.”

In addition to the weekly rankings, the coaches association selects players of the week based on coaches nominations.

Leechburg has had a player selected each of the four weeks. Junior outside hitter Tatum Verner was honored the first week, followed by Raypush and junior middle hitter Kalli Grine in weeks two and three. Falyn Verner earned selection this week for her play in a 3-0 win over Riverview on Oct. 6 that completed the season sweep.

For six players on the team — Pierce, Raypush, Tatum and Falyn Verner, sophomore outside/middle hitter Karli Mazak and sophomore defensive specialist Anna Cibik — this fall marks a return to action in a Leechburg uniform after the coronavirus took away their spring softball season.

“Some of us play (softball) tournament ball over the summer, so we were able to play, but it was tough not being able to represent the school and continue our streak of making the WPIAL playoffs,” Pierce said. “Coming into this season, coach (Hebrank) really made us condition to make sure we were in shape for our matches.”

Leechburg caps its section slate and the regular season overall at St. Joseph on Oct. 22.

“We have, honestly, gone so far with our friendships and our togetherness,” Raypush said. “We have a lot of things still to do with this season, and there are things we know we can improve on. But it’s fun to be able to do it as a team.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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