Senior captain wraps up North Hills career having made mark on volleyball program

Saturday, October 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Giana Cutenese is putting the final touches on her high school volleyball career. And while it’s one that may not finish with championships or deep playoff runs, it is one to be proud of for the North Hills senior.

A defensive specialist/libero, Cutenese has started all four of her high school seasons for a program that has gone from perennial basement dweller to an up-and-coming team battling in the WPIAL’s toughest section.

“Everything has been uphill every year,” said Cutenese. “We’ve been progressing. It’s all about progression. I’ve enjoyed playing with different girls and seeing how competitive we can be with these teams in our section.”

Coming out of section 1-4A, North Hills qualified for the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs for the first time in three decades in 2022, bowing out in the first round. But getting to that point was a monumental moment for Cutenese and her teammates.

“It was crazy,” she said. “It was something that we talked about, something that was maybe in the future that we would think of. For it to actually happen, it was surreal, unexpected and really exciting. It was a taste of something we had never had before.”

Part of the turnaround was a new coaching staff led by Matt White, currently in his second year with the program. He had seen Cutenese’s game before even getting to North Hills while coaching with Shaler.

“Whenever you have your defensive specialist position, they’re the quarterback of the defense,” he explained. “They have to have this special grit to them, that special want to go up against the best hitters in the WPIAL. You want them to rise to that challenge. Giana definitely gives that, day in and day out.

“As a new coach, you don’t want to walk in and say, ‘I’m changing everything about this program.’ You try to build on the strengths they had. One of the strengths North Hills had was their defensive grit. She’s done an awesome job of keeping that identity strong and growing.”

Because of that, Cutenese has served as a captain the last two seasons, trying to lead by example with an on-court personality full of eagerness and support for her teammates.

“I’ve always said that no matter what position I have on the court, positivity is very significant,” Cutenese said. “As a libero and a captain, the girls feed off of me. How I handle different plays and different situations with my reactions can have an impact on the team as a whole. I’ve learned that being positive through every point, up and down, win and loss, is key.”

Her coach agrees.

“She leads the team in how she approaches each day,” White said. “She walks in the gym and is an awesome presence. She wants to step up and help out younger girls. She’s a steady presence on the court. She’s earned that captaincy the past two years.”

Away from school and volleyball, Cutenese has spent time working in the offseason both at a nursing home and in retail, while making time to volunteer. In school, she’s a member of the French National Honor Society and National Honor Society and is active in several clubs and events.

She has been accepted to seven colleges and plans to study nursing, but is unsure if volleyball will be a part of her college experience, as that will depend on which school she chooses for academics.

“I love volleyball,” she said. “I’ve been playing for years and would be open to playing if the opportunity presented itself. I’m looking for a smaller school, in the country or homier. That’s me. More country than city, for sure.

“A big part of life for me is balancing. I’m balancing life as a student and athlete. Trying to progress in both spots is difficult. But it’s taught me a lot. Volleyball, on and off the court, has benefitted me.”

Beyond the wins and personal achievements as a player, Cutenese’s favorite aspect of volleyball has been seeing the game grow in the North Hills community, particularly at the youth levels.

“I only started doing camps in sixth grade, and they were just scattered volleyball camps,” she said. “My older cousin played, so I was introduced to the game at a young age. But it was never really offered. Now, we’re doing youth camps that I’ve volunteered at for four years. I’ve met some of the kids and they seem so excited to learn the sport that we all love. That was never offered when we were younger.”

Cutenese’s impact on her teammates and others has been tremendous. She’s walking away from North Hills volleyball with the program better than she found it. And she has helped turn a team that was, for so long, an afterthought, into a respected competitor for even the WPIAL’s top-tier programs.

“The growth of the program has been a huge thing that I’m really happy and satisfied with leaving after my senior year, knowing that the kids are looking up to us, pulling us aside after the games and trying to get pictures with us,” she said. “We feel like celebrities at some points. But I’m just really glad that the program is prospering.”


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