Queens of the ‘Burgh volleyball event shines spotlight on top WPIAL players in fun setting

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Saturday, August 12, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Avonworth girls volleyball coach John Skarupa believes it is the first of many to come.

The inaugural Queens of the ‘Burgh volleyball tournament took place Aug. 4-6 at the All American Field House in Monroeville.

The tournament was available to all incoming high school junior and senior girls for the 2023-24 school year.

Skarupa, Amanda Fetter and Laura Zewe formed the event’s planning committee. 3Step Sports helped back it and provided some of the marketing and the registration system.

“The purpose of Queens was to spotlight the top players in the region and create an empowering event through a positive experience,” Skarupa said. “Most girls do not get the opportunity to play with specific players due to being enrolled at different high schools or club programs, so this gave the players a chance to be on the same team as someone from a different part of our district.

“The event was a big success in my mind and from the countless players and parents that told us how much fun it was to play with such high-level talent. I thoroughly enjoyed putting this event on and loved the positive experience it had on these very talented young women. We are, for sure, going to run this event next year and hoping we can add a few more teams. I have a few ideas that we will be slowly rolling into this event to make sure each one is bigger and better than the last.”

The Queens event was set up in two parts with a combine on Day 1 and game action on Days 2 and 3.

At the combine, each athlete was tested and received her approach and block jump results, followed by a series of drills highlighting positional skills and ending with 6-on-6 competition.

The girls then were divided into teams with an assigned coach. Each coach was a former WPIAL athlete now competing collegiately.

After the combine, a draft party took place at All American Field Fouse, where the coaches announced each of the players on their teams. All American Field House is owned by the Cozza volleyball family.

“Craig Cozza was very supportive and provided his staff to ensure the event’s success,” Skarupa said.

The girls’ jersey numbers honored some of the greatest athletes in Pittsburgh sports history, such as No. 75, No. 66, No. 87, etc.

Pool play took place Saturday with each team competing in three matches. The matches on both days were filmed and made available to the participants. There also were in-game announcers and music to add to the energy of the games.

“The fun part about this was we allowed our work team to DJ and announce the starting lineups along with play-by-play commentary,” Skarupa said. “A lot of laughter was heard throughout the day along with great energy and positive support for those special plays.

“All matches were filmed and each play was broken down so that each player has film to use for her recruiting profile.”

On Sunday, playoff brackets were established and the championship team was the Dukes, who were was coached by Avonworth graduate Maggie Colenbrander, now a defensive specialist at Duquesne.

Team members were DS Becca Feczko (Avonworth), DS Avery Koontz (Hampton), MB Kennady Martindale (Montour), MB Ally Schepner (Hampton), RS Victoria Huffmyer (Avonworth), OH Elysia Smith (North Allegheny), OH Elle Visco (Penn-Trafford) and S Aliyah Angelici (Upper St. Clair).

Koontz, Schepner, Huffmyer, Smith and Visco will be seniors in 2023-24. Feczko, Martindale, who was named Most Valuable Queen, and Angelici will be juniors.

A total of 33 girls from 14 schools — Avonworth (6), North Catholic (5), Upper St. Clair (4), Hampton (4), Quaker Valley (2), Montour (2), Knoch (2), Seneca Valley (2), Eden Christian, Mars, Kiski Area, Thomas Jefferson, North Allegheny and Penn-Trafford — participated.

Outside hitters Molly MacDonald, a 5-foot-10 junior, and Nora Hammond, a 5-6 junior, represented Quaker Valley and were placed on the Sharks, coached by Kennedy Christy (Knoch/Juniata), and Miller Time, coached by Paige Miller (North Allegheny/Mercyhurst).

“Coach Skarupa personally invited us to play. We were excited to have high-level competition in a relaxed environment,” MacDonald said. “We got jerseys with important Pittsburgh professional athletes’ numbers on them. I was No. 75 for the Steelers’ Mean Joe Greene.

“It was so much fun to play with girls from other schools and top clubs in Pittsburgh. Usually, we play against each other. We all had a great time and were very competitive but laughed a lot and cheered each other on. Girls took turns being the announcers during the matches. The banter was great. I was on the Sharks, and we were the only team to win three matches on Saturday. All four teams were equal in terms of skill level. We ended up going 4-1 the whole weekend.”

Skarupa is in his fourth year as coach at Avonworth. He is passionate about girls volleyball.

“Girls volleyball is sometime the forgotten sport in high school athletics,” Skarupa said. “We have some incredible players in our area and that stems from the great universities we have in the area. Pittsburgh is slowly starting to improve its volleyball scene, and we can attribute that to the success Pitt was able to achieve as a Top 4 team in the nation.

“We need to continue to support our teams by doing events like Queens and what we’ve been doing at Avonworth. We’ve been able to create a new atmosphere with our Band Night where we bring in our marching band to play at our match. And a new theme night last year was 80s Night, where we had local legend Donnie Iris sing the national anthem. So why not create one of the most unique experiences that no other high school sport I know of is providing?”

The fourth team at the Queens event was the Jays, coached by Elizabeth Feczko (North Catholic/Villanova).

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