Pine-Richland girls volleyball thrives in trying circumstances

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Sunday, November 8, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Pine-Richland’s volleyball program has had three head coaches in four years, and the most recent season was temporarily in limbo, not only because of covid-19 but also because of a coaching change two days before tryouts.

To say the team’s seniors have been through a lot might be an understatement.

“I never expected the last four years to be like this,” senior Makenzie Nelson said. “Honestly, it’s cool to see how each coach takes a different approach and to see how they worked with each different group of girls.”

Despite the odds stacked against them with a coach who learned their names during tryouts, No. 6 Pine-Richland came close to forcing out No. 3 Oakland Catholic, a team that lost one set in the regular season, in the second round of the playoffs.

After splitting the first two sets, Pine-Richland was twice a set point away from going up 2-1 but gave up the lead. The Rams’ season ended in a close fourth set.

“We couldn’t find much film on Oakland Catholic, but we knew a few of their players, especially from club teams,” Nelson said. “We had an open mind, and we were driven. ”

Nelson captained the team with senior Ekaterini Balouris and junior Sophie Catalano.

They were an integral part of helping interim coach Sean Grady learn about the team and leading their teammates to buy into his strategies.

He saw the Rams’ potential in the one week they had together before the start of the regular season and felt they played some of their best volleyball in the final weeks, which included wins over No. 4 Moon, No. 8 Seneca Valley and No. 11 Upper St. Clair.

“I told them after (Oakland Catholic) how proud I was of them,” Grady said. “They had to learn a lot about me, and I had to learn a lot about them.”

The Rams look primed for another playoff run next season with all but two starters returning, all of them offensive players.

“It’s exciting to know how good they’ll be next year,” Nelson said.

Grady hopes to rejoin the team as its head coach after the school completes its coaching search. He has coached the boys’ program for seven seasons.

“I had a really good time coaching (the girls team),” Grady said. “You don’t see too many coaching changes at this level. For a program like this, like with Heidi Miller and North Allegheny, you usually see coaches with a team for a long time. They’ll be very good next year. The talent they have returning is insane, and I’d love to be at the helm.”

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