Senior-heavy lineup helps Hempfield volleyball build on playoff appearance

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022 | 11:28 AM


As the season got underway, Hempfield was looking to build on last season’s WPIAL playoff appearance in girls volleyball, but the current lineup remained a work in progress.

Through four matches, second-year coach Ashten Flynn was beginning to get a better understanding of her team’s tendencies following the defections of several former players.

“We have had some kids not come back due to (participation in) other sports,” said Flynn, who in her first year at Hempfield guided the Spartans to the postseason, despite a sub-.500 record.

They finished the year 5-9 following a Class 4A first-round loss in five sets to Moon.

“We set a goal to make the playoffs, and we met that goal,” Flynn said.

But a new year has brought new challenges.

“We’ve had to move around kids to play other positions,” Flynn said. “We’re still being very competitive in the front row in our offense. It’s actually working out well with the position changes.”

A total of 15 seniors and juniors dominate a 22-person roster for the Spartans (1-3, 0-0), who were scheduled to open their Section 3 slate Tuesday at Penn-Trafford.

Liz Tapper, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter, was expected to play a key role in the team’s quest for continued improvement.

“She’s a leader, a natural-born leader,” Flynn said. “She’s one of the players with pure leadership ability, not to mention athletic ability. She plays selfless.”

Already, Flynn has seen signs of a resurgence in the sport at Hempfield, which has gone through a parade of coaches in recent years.

She and her staff recently entertained 115 girls for a junior high team tryout.

“We’re trying to bring Hempfield back to what I knew as top-level volleyball,” said Flynn, who recalled some fierce battles with the Spartans while attending Connellsville, where she played volleyball from 2013-16.

“I’m the first returning coach here in four years.”

With so many changes in personnel lately, Flynn has expressed a desire to stick around and improve the Spartans’ girls volleyball profile, little-by-little.

“Hempfield,” she said, “has been very supportive of our mission, and it means a lot. I can truly say I’m in the right place. My purpose can definitely be a leader and advocate for girls in sports.

“We’re looking for body language on some of these players who are trying to establish themselves.”

Other seniors looking to make an impact were opposite hitter Ella Bringe, middle hitter Arin DeLattre and defensive specialist Olivia Orischak.

Key juniors are expected to be setter Gianna Giachetti and defensive specialists Zoey Hopkins and Sarah Podkul.

All but Giachetti played last season on the Hempfield varsity team.

“She played JV last year,” Flynn said, “but she’s ready for this level. She’s done a really good job so far. The only real downside for her is her height.”

The 5-5 Giachetti has spent eight years playing the sport, more than any other current Hempfield player.

Five teams make up Section 3-4A, including Hempfield and Penn-Trafford. The others are Fox Chapel, Norwin and Shaler.

“It’s a privilege to get to play against the best of the best in the state,” Flynn said. “I’m confident when I say that teams in the WPIAL — teams in this area — offer the top talent. We’ll run into a lot of them: North Allegheny, Shaler, Seneca Valley … and some day we hope to be included, as well.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction. The ball is rolling, and we’re going to get it rolling a little bit better.”

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