Penn Hills girls volleyball looks to develop new leaders this season

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Sunday, September 20, 2020 | 11:01 AM


With the departure of a handful of seniors, sophomore outside hitter Sarah Miller will not only be called upon to excel on the court but will be asked to fill a leadership role on Penn Hills volleyball team.

Penn Hills, which only won three matches last season, dropped from Section 3-AAAA to Section 1-AAA this season. The Indians will compete against Franklin Regional, which lost in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals last season, and Kiski Area and Woodland Hills, which each qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. Greensburg Salem, Indiana, McKeesport and Plum make up the rest of the section.

Miller will be the only full-time starter from last year’s team. Junior Larissa Shelby will take over full-time duties as the Indians’ setter.

The Indians roster, which has 17 players, includes no seniors and three juniors while the rest are sophomores and freshmen.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” coach Jay Mitlo said. “The learning curve will be high, but there will be a lot of accomplishments as the season goes along.”

Mitlo will look to replace the production lost by the graduation of setter Colleen Hoolahan, who was named second-team PA Big 56 all-section last season.

Hoolahan led the Indians, who had wins over Gateway, Carrick and Trinity Christian, with 251 assists during her senior season.

Outside hitter Yasmine Logan and libero Vanessa Persichetti graduated, while senior outside hitter Faith Crawford decided to focus on track this season.

“It’s never about the competition. it’s always about us,” Mitlo said. “Wins and losses take care of themselves. But I’m very excited about where we are and getting to play some new teams.

“I’m excited about these girls and their growth and development throughout the season. I think we will be competitive most of the time.”

Junior libero Angel Callaway, who will join Miller as team captain, will take over for Persichetti in the starting lineup. Junior Sydelle Brown will start as the middle hitter. A trio of sophomores will be fixtures in the Indians’ starting lineup this season – middle hitter Taylor Slaughter, outside hitter Ava Adamski and right side hitter Ameira Smith.

“The attitude and the energy in the gym is outstanding,” Mitlo said. “More than ever before, everybody is pulling for each other. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve seen sports taken away and they are just elated to have it.

“We are wearing masks around our necks. It’s a sense of normalcy in a world that’s upside down. It has been an absolute joy to coach these first three weeks.”

Mitlo has expressed how important it is for Miller to take more of a leadership role with such a young team. Miller has responded by leading the team with her own style.

“She was a freshman on a very senior-laden team last year,” Mitlo said. “She has been very humble and selfless but a leader nonetheless.”

No matter the results of the matches, Mitlo believes the program has learned a valuable lesson about living in the moment because of the pandemic.

“When it became July 1 when we could have offseason workouts, we immediately had them,” he said. “We were very open then that we didn’t know if we were going to be allowed to play, so enjoy that. We just embraced each moment of open gyms and now it has transformed to embracing each moment of the season.”

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