With AD stepping in as coach, Penn Hills volleyball looking to learn

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Sunday, September 17, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Stephanie Strauss doesn’t want coaching the Penn Hills girls volleyball program to be a long-term gig. But Strauss has enjoyed being back on the sidelines.

Strauss, who is Penn Hills’ athletic director, took the job because no qualified candidates lined up to take over for long-time coach Jay Mitlo after he stepped down following last season.

Fortunately for Strauss, she is overqualified to lead the Indians. Strauss attended Juniata to play volleyball after graduating from Penn Hills in 2007. Strauss is eighth in Eagles’ history with 3,424 career assists. She helped the Eagles to an appearance in the NCAA Division III volleyball championship match in 2009.

During Strauss’ four years at Juniata, the Eagles went 142-20. After college, Strauss was an assistant coach at Juniata for three seasons before coaching at Navy in 2016.

Strauss became the first female athletic director in Penn Hills history in 2017.

Strauss has been working with the team to try and build a bridge for next season. She is especially excited with the participation level at the middle school level.

“Our numbers have been good,” Strauss said. “The middle school coaches have been doing a great job keeping an excitement with the game. The kids want to keep playing. We are carrying 27 girls this season on the JV/varsity roster.”

Last season, Penn Hills had an experienced roster that made the playoffs for the first time in a decade. The Indians lost in the first round to Knoch.

This season, Penn Hills is off to a rough start. The Indians won their season opener against Riverview, but have lost their first two conference matches and are 1-5 overall.

“It’s been really fun to be in the gym with the student athletes,” Strauss said. “It’s fun to get them on a different level being their coach instead of being an athletic director. They are all so coachable. They want to learn and get better.”

Gabby Pernatozzi is one of the few players returning from last season who has a lot of experience. Keyana Walker and London Irish are both returners from last season as well.

Penn Hills also got a boost when Lauren Sipple, who also plays softball and swims, returned to the program.

In addition to Irish, Sipple and Walker, Penn Hills also has seniors Kendyl Jones, Bella Larko and Tristan Thompson on the roster.

Strauss said she’s been having fun and is working on getting the program in better shape for the future.

“I think we’re trying to build on the fundamentals and build the volleyball IQ by playing a lot,” Strauss said. “We do a lot of game-like drills in practice. Give them a chance to play and that’s going to translate the best into matches.”

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