South Fayette volleyball off to fast start

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Saturday, September 30, 2017 | 1:27 AM


When a varsity sports team needs to turn to underclassmen for production, it can lead to growing pains no matter if it is on the field, diamond or court.

But the South Fayette girls volleyball team had made it look easy so far.

The Lions are off to a 6-1 start and ranked fifth in Class AAA in the latest Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

“I think there is a lot of upside with the younger kids,” South Fayette coach Scott Sundgren said. “We just need our older group to continue to get strong and be leaders. We talk to them about being a leader and how to bring that to the gym every day.”

The team returned only a handful of players who played extensively on a squad that reached the WPIAL third-place consolation match last season. Outside hitter Haley Altemus was an all-state and all-WPIAL selection last year as a junior.

Senior Madison Johnson, a libero who received all-section second-team honors last season, and senior defensive specialist Taylor Marmarelli both returned. Junior Aubery Hetland has stepped up at setter, and junior middle hitter Olivia Goerdt has continued the success she found last year.

“The older kids have been through the playoffs,” Sundgren said. “They have felt the pressure that comes along with playing in big games. We have several sophomores and a freshman getting time. They can be anxious because they are not used to it.”

Despite it being their first taste of varsity play, several of the new faces have made an impact. Sophomore right-side hitter Lauren Saulle continues to improve, and junior Lexi Yates has been solid in the middle in her first year with the varsity team.

“I think we have grown a lot,” Sundgren said. “Just freshmen and sophomores getting used to being on the court has made a difference. They have started to understand their roles. They are growing up. The more and more competition they see, even in practice, is helping them get better.”

South Fayette scored a 3-1 win over rival Charters Valley last week. The win could be crucial in the battle for a playoff spot in Section 3. Five of the teams — Ambridge, Montour and West Allegheny, along with the Colts and Lions — have been ranked so far this season and are in contention for a postseason berth.

“And the other two teams, Trinity and Ringgold, are not bad teams,” Sundgren said. “They are scrappy and will make you play well every set. Ringgold has a really good setter. They just lack a bigger kid who can put the ball away. If those two teams were in any other section, they'd be playing for a playoff spot.

“When we do get to the playoffs, playing against very good teams in the section makes a big difference. We have to go out and compete every night. Not every section has that.”

Despite their youth, the players know the legacy South Fayette volleyball has built. The Lions have won at least one game in the postseason every year since 2012, finished third in 2015 and reached the third-place consolation match last year.

“The kids understand the expectations and come out to compete,” Sundgren said. “Success breeds success.”

Nathan Smith is a freelance writer.

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