Pine-Richland volleyball shows promise, character in playoff season

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Sunday, October 25, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Pine-Richland’s volleyball season has been a series of glimpses into the team’s potential.

Two wins over No. 7 Seneca Valley and taking one set each from North Allegheny and Shaler, the top-ranked teams in WPIAL, showed early in the season the Rams were at least a good team.

To be considered among the top WPIAL teams entering the playoffs, the Rams knew they had an opportunity in their third-to-last regular season game against then-No. 1 Moon.

“It definitely meant a lot to get the opportunity to play Moon out of section, especially with them being ranked first,” junior Sophie Catalano said. “We knew it was an important game, and we definitely felt like we could win.”

Makayla Roy, Kaili Doctor and Catalano arranged for their home gym to be opened an hour before junior varsity warm-ups so they could set up the net and hit bucket after bucket of balls to get in more offensive reps.

“They did it all themselves to get in sync with each other,” interim coach Shawn Grady said. “I thought it was strange to see them there for JV warm-ups, but they wanted to prepare more. They wanted to get focused. That showed a lot of character.”

The Rams dropped the first set to Moon, but Doctor set the tone for a comeback in the second set with a thunderous strike off a perfectly placed pass by Roy.

No. 6 Pine-Richland roared back to win in four sets.

“They’re peaking at the right time,” Grady said. “I was reviewing tape from earlier in the season and putting together a few profiles for the girls … and we’re just a different team because of our growth. I think there’s another level we can grow to.”

The uncertainty that surrounded the Rams in early September — they briefly did not have a coaching staff two days before tryouts — has been replaced by confidence in their ability to contend.

At one point a 4-4 team, the Rams won five consecutive matchups in the last half of the season, with Moon being the fourth opponent in that streak.

“It’s a great win, but our mission isn’t to beat Moon,” Grady said. “Our mission is a lot bigger.”

Pine-Richland will enter the playoffs with an offense led by Roy, who sets up Doctor and Catalano, two of the best outside hitters in WPIAL, according to Grady.

After six weeks with their new coach, the Rams have embraced a unique offense that has incrementally given players more freedom to be set up for big swings across the entirety of the floor, even if it’s out of their traditional position.

“They have shown me they can hit from wherever they want, so if they feel can take advantage of a target or a blocking assignment, they can go after it,” Grady said. “Makayla is our first-year starting setter, and she has to be able to change on the fly. That’s a tough position for a setter to be in, and you need a setter who is really mentally strong to enable our hitters to do that.”

Makenzie Nelson also has stepped up at libero and has grown into a leader.

“Makenzie is what you want a senior leader to be,” Grady said. “The mental and emotional side of it is where she has really grown, and that’s really important for us going into the playoffs.”

The Rams believe they have more to prove in the postseason.

“I definitely felt we got a late start in the preseason and going into our first few games, but I feel like every practice and game we get better and better,” Catalano said. “I feel like the best is yet to come for us.”

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