North Hills boys volleyball looking to turn corner

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Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 6:11 PM


Over the last couple of seasons, the North Hills (1-2, 0-1) boys volleyball program has displayed steady improvement.

While that is a positive sign, the result of the team’s progress left it with four wins last season — a total that kept them on the outside looking in when it came time for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

Now, first-year coach Mike Protch, who has spent the last three years involved with the Indians’ volleyball program at various levels, is ready to see his team turn a corner.

“Personally, I think we have the most potential this year out of any of the three previous years that I’ve been here,” he said. We’re talented. It’s just the culture.

“From what I understand, we’ve never had that successful culture here. We are seeking to build off of the four-win season we had last year and turn this into a program that is respected, one that’s competitive with any team.”

In previous years, North Hills’ might have been light on experience. This year’s group has a solid cast of varsity veterans. One of those veterans, senior Byron Spear, was a second team all-section performer in 2-AAA and returns to fill the middle/right side hitter position with his 6-foot-7 frame.

Spear’s younger brother, Emerson, didn’t miss out on the height gene either. The junior stands at 6-5 and will start alongside his older brother as a middle/outside hitter.

Junior Ryan Martin and sophomore Andrew Krull also will play at outside hitter. Protch describes Martin as an on-court leader for the group, and Krull has the potential to be as good as any player who ever suited up for the team, his coach said.

With a tall and talented group of experienced players minding the net, Protch said finishing won’t be the Achilles heel of his group. The team’s ability to pass and stay plugged in throughout contests will be deciding factors.

“Defense and passing, for sure,” Protch said. “We can definitely control the net. When we’re there and focused, we can control the net, put balls away and throw up some solid blocks.

“We just need to continue working on maintaining focus and limiting the mental errors. They’re going to happen, but we can’t let easy plays trip us up if we want to keep improving.”

Libero Nate Saul and setter Chris Thornton will look to help mend the Indians’ flaws when it comes to passing and communication. Thornton is a 6-5 junior who is playing his first season at the position but already has shown signs of improvement. Saul also plays baseball but is instrumental to the team’s success as its libero, Protch said.

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