Penn-Trafford boys volleyball aims for another section title

Friday, March 29, 2019 | 8:11 PM

The Penn-Trafford boys volleyball team jumped right into the thick of an intense battle in its season opener Tuesday night, and that was exactly what Warriors coach Jim Schall wanted to see to get a better handle on his team.

The Warriors battled back two deficits before losing 3-2 to Latrobe.

Naturally, Schall wanted his team to win, but he liked the fight in his group, which returns only one full-time starter from last season and a handful of others that saw playing time.

Penn-Trafford has won the last three section titles, but Schall said every year is a new year and the Latrobe match combined with some positives from the North Allegheny Tournament last Saturday made the picture a little clearer for this season.

“We’ve seen some pretty good competition in the first week,” said Schall, who is entering his 17th season with the Warriors. “It definitely gives you an idea of what you have, and I’m happy with how we did. We played very hard (Tuesday night). It just didn’t work out. Latrobe is a solid team with a lot of experience. We’ll continue to make improvements, but I think we can put a pretty good team together.”

Senior middle hitter Jake Tappe is the lone returning full-time starter. The Warriors lost three starters to graduation: kills and blocks leader Sean Kelly, assists leader Nick Tarabella and Logan Paluzzi.

Penn-Trafford had an evolving lineup last year, which gave some returners playing time. Outside hitters Brayden Puskar and Zach Rapp split time in the lineup a season ago. Adam Grove, a setter, was a part-time starter, and defensive specialist Jake Seruga also saw some action.

“Playing-wise, Jake has come a long way from last year,” Schall said. “His blocking has improved, and he’s a pretty solid hitter. He’s going to be a guy that we’d like to get the ball to.”

Tappe has taken on responsibilities as a leader. He takes pride in being even-keeled on the court to try to set a good example for the less-experienced guys, and he put that into practice against Latrobe.

“We saw some things that need to be worked on after Tuesday,” Tappe said. “Most importantly, we need better team chemistry. There were times where we weren’t talking, and guys were getting mad. I just try to get everyone to keep talking and to not let themselves get in a rut.

“For the most part, we all get along this year, so I think we’ll do a good job growing together as a team.”

Tappe and Grove have a good relationship on the court as a hitter and setter, and they are friends outside of volleyball. They work together at Subway, and they hope to combine for plenty of points this spring.

“We’ve been friends for a while,” Tappe said. “He started at setter some last year, and we’ve really got in sync with what’s going on when we’re on the court.”

The Latrobe match was a preview for what is shaping up to be a competitive Section 3-AAA. The Wildcats, Norwin and Hempfield were playoff participants last season, and Armstrong figures to be much improved. Plum and Penn Hills are also in the section.

It won’t be an easy road to a fourth straight section championship.

Norwin, Hempfield, Latrobe and Armstrong are going to be really good,” Schall said. “I’ve seen a little bit of Plum and Penn Hills, and they’re going to be improved. It makes it more interesting. There’s maybe been some times in the past where we didn’t have to be at our best and still could win, but that won’t be the case this year. Whoever the playoff teams are that come out of our section, they’re going to be well-tested.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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