Thomas Jefferson boys volleyball in good position after strong season with young team

Sunday, June 25, 2023 | 10:45 AM

Will Stewart stands out in a crowd.

Stewart is a 6-foot-7 junior outside hitter and a team leader for the Thomas Jefferson boys volleyball team.

He was one of five TJ players named all-section in 2023 along with Riley Burdett, a 5-11 junior outside hitter, sophomores Jaiden Wadlow, a 5-5 libero, and Sujan Pradhan, a 5-11 setter, and Aaron DeNardo, a 6-1 junior setter.

Stewart and Burdett were first-team selections, Wadlow and Pradhan made it on the second team, while DeNardo received third-team status.

Stewart, a three-year varsity player who plans to continue his career in college, also was an All-WPIAL selection. He was chosen to the second team.

“Will has been playing volleyball since ninth grade, not only for the high school team but also the A-10 Club,” TJ coach Frank Staffen said. “Will played basketball in his younger years, so switching over to volleyball was an easy transition.

“He has improved every year and college coaches are starting to notice. I’m always getting asked or emailed about Will. He does have potential to play for a Division I college. He is very versatile and can hit both front and back row. He also plays all the way around and has improved tremendously over the years as a defensive player.”

Stewart participates in volleyball year-round. He also enjoys camping and other outdoor activities and is a member of the ping pong club at TJ.

“My season went well,” Stewart said. “I had a lot of time to focus on improving certain aspects of my game while the season went on.

“When I’m not playing school volleyball, I’m playing sand volleyball or for my club team, the A-10 Volleyball Club.”

The Jaguars finished with an 8-4 section record, good for third place and a WPIAL Class 2A playoff berth. They ended up 10-5 overall.

Along with Stewart, Burdett, Wadlow, Pradhan and DeNardo, the Jaguars’ starting rotation included 6-3 freshman MH Braeden Artman, 6-1 senior MH Zack Strutt, 6-1 sophomore OH Cole McNeil and 5-11 sophomore DS Troy Brown.

The senior class on the squad was represented by Strutt and Chris Boback, a 5-11 right-side hitter.

“I think the team played well this season, and we did better against certain teams than we have in my three years of playing volleyball at TJ,” Stewart said. “I’m proud of everybody on the team for all the hard work they put in and how they played.”

TJ received a No. 9 playoff seed but lost to No. 8 Hopewell, 3-1, in the WPIAL first round. The Jaguars also placed second in a late-season tournament at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

“Overall, I think it was a successful season,” Staffen said, “and we basically have the entire team back for next year. A lot of players will be playing Junior Olympics this summer and winter, and it will be very difficult selecting a starting team with so many talented players coming back next year.”

Eight players who started or saw regular game action will return in 2024, along with a long list of reserves hoping to make an impact.

Rounding out this year’s team were juniors Sumukhshaastha DeSabhotia (MH) and Alex Blaker (MH/RS), sophomores Aiden Janicky (DS), Aiden Dushack (OH), Josiah Reilly (OH) and Robert Quinlan (OH/DS), and freshmen Logan Palko (S/OH), Julian Rambharose (MH) and Luke Witkowski (OH).

“I’m looking forward to next year and having my assistant Debbie McSwiggen by my side as we (attempt to) make a run for section and WPIAL championships,” Staffen said.

The towering Stewart echoed his veteran coach’s sentiments.

“My expectations for next year are going to be high,” Stewart said. “We have eight returning varsity starters, which means they will know how the game works. We are going to get off to a good start and work hard.

“The players we have returning have high potential, and I’m excited to see how they turn out by the time games start and by the end of the season.”

There were 19 athletes in the TJ boys volleyball program in 2023, led by Stewart, one of four juniors on this year’s squad.

“Will is one of the top players in the WPIAL and I see him going far,” Staffen said. “Will works hard both on and off the court. I expect great things from him next year.”


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