New coach Brannigan hopes to lead her former team back to prominence at Greensburg Salem

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Monday, September 13, 2021 | 12:24 PM


Maybe it’s her competitive nature. Perhaps it’s the bittersweet memory of falling just short of a PIAA championship as a Greensburg Salem senior in 2006-07 that motivates Rachel Brannigan.

Then again, playing girls volleyball for revered coach Lynn Jobe, the architect of the Golden Lions’ magical Class 3A state championship run nearly 10 years earlier in 1997-98, when the former Rachel Roddy was an elementary school student, just might be the real reason for Brannigan’s desire to elevate her alma mater’s program back to elite status.

Jobe, with Brannigan starring, nearly pulled off the feat again near the end of Jobe’s illustrious coaching career.

“In my senior year, we won the (Class AA) WPIAL championship, but we lost in the state semifinals to West Allegheny,” Brannigan said. “We ended up runner-up, which is quite an accomplishment in itself.”

But it wasn’t what Brannigan, an all-state player, had been hoping for. Maybe she will wind up in a similar position one day as coach of her own team.

The quest already has begun.

Greensburg Salem welcomed back one of its most decorated former athletes this year when Brannigan took charge of the girls volleyball coaching job, replacing Taylor Guido, a former teammate with the Golden Lions under Jobe.

While it might be a tall order, Brannigan said she hopes to emulate some of the things she learned from Jobe, who led the Golden Lions for several decades.

“I was lucky enough to have Lynn Jobe as my coach, and she laid the basis for me loving the sport,” Brannigan said.

Apparently, Brannigan loved it so much that she chose volleyball over three other sports she’d played in high school — basketball, softball and track and field — while attending college at Point Park.

Brannigan also managed to spend two seasons playing basketball at the NAIA Division II school, something to which returning Greensburg Salem all-section outside hitter Abby Mankins can relate.

“With my mindset, honestly, I really love to compete, whether it’s basketball, volleyball or whatever,” said the 5-foor-10 Mankins, who will attend Seton Hill next year on a basketball scholarship.

“My focus is on the current sport,” she said. “I like to have a break from the other sport, but no matter which season it is, I’m there to compete and win.”

Brannigan said Mankins at the moment is “fully committed to volleyball season and giving her all.

“Her willingness to want to focus on whatever season you’re in means you’re all for it, and that’s how I looked at it when I was in school.”

Brannigan got her first chance as a varsity coach last week, when Greensburg Salem dropped a 3-2 Section 1-3A decision to Kiski Area.

Three more matches in a span of four days were scheduled for the Golden Lions, beginning on Monday at home against Connellsville.

Other Section 1 teams include Indiana, McKeesport, Plum, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and defending WPIAL champion Franklin Regional, which lost to Bethlehem Catholic in the 2020 PIAA title match to settle for state runner-up.

The Panthers entered the year ranked No. 9 in the Western PA Volleyball Coaches Association Class 3A poll.

Mankins is among three returning starters, joining fellow seniors 6-1 middle hitter Sarah Danley and 5-7 libero/defensive specialist Olivia Sheffler.

“I expect to make a big impact this season and hope to start to put Greensburg Salem volleyball back on the map,” said Brannigan, who also previously coached the Greensburg Salem softball team for two seasons and spent a year coaching the school’s JV girls basketball team.

“We have eight seniors, some juniors and even a sophomore or two who are battling for starting positions. This group has come hungry to work and has put in a lot of effort in the offseason. I expect a lot of leadership from the upper classmen and for them to be a big presence at the net.”

Four players of at least 6 feet tall figure frequently to be in the lineup: Danley, 6-1 senior middle hitter Sidney Kantor, 6-0 senior middle hitter Nikki Bush and 6-0 sophomore middle hitter Katelyn Mankins, Abby’s sister.

Brannigan said among others showing strong chances to be regular starters are senior defensive specialist Mazzy Baxter, senior setter/defensive specialist Melina Vandenberg, senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Timaia Lewis and junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Laurel Uhlinger.

“I’ve always felt that Greensburg Salem has been a scrappy team,” Brannigan said, “but all this size is an advantage we’re not used to having.”

Assisting Brannigan on the bench is Devin Linsenbigler, a former middle school and ninth-grade coach at Hempfield.

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