Yekich takes control of Baldwin boys volleyball program

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Friday, April 5, 2019 | 5:14 PM


Milan Yekich is in his first season as head coach of the Baldwin boys volleyball program.

But his background in the sport goes back to his grade school days.

Yekich started playing volleyball as a fifth-grader at St. Elizabeth. He continued his career through middle school and high school, and played club volleyball for Pitt Elite from 2004 until his senior year at Baldwin.

He manned both outside and right-side hitter, eventually landing at libero/defensive specialist.

“Once I graduated high school in 2009, I became a PIAA official,” Yekich said, “working both boys and girls WPIAL high school and grade school matches, collegiate ball and occasionally USA club ball.”

Yekich was hired as the Highlanders’ junior varsity coach in 2017, and has taken over the varsity program for retired coach Eric Falcione, who was the face of Baldwin boys volleyball for two-and-a-half decades. Falcione served as the Highlanders’ head coach for 20 years.

“My general coaching philosophy is somewhat basic and generic,” said the 28-year-old Yekich. “Volleyball is like a chess game where sometimes you have to think ahead and anticipate what the next opponent’s move is going to be. The players on the court should not only work hard, but play smart at the same time.

“Communication is key, not only what is happening on our side of the net but on the opponent’s side. Take full responsibility for your actions. If you make a mistake own it, but most importantly fix it and improve upon it. There are six guys on the court and it takes all six to win.

“I believe the most important attitude to have is respect. Having respect for yourself, your fellow teammates, coaches and officials. You can tell a lot about an athlete’s character from how they carry themselves, as well as how they treat others, especially in good and bad situations.”

Last season, Baldwin advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals and posted a 12-3 record.

The Highlanders were led by then-seniors Ben Remlinger and Mike Goga, both All-WPIAL and all-section selections.

“The 2018 season was one for the ages,” Falcione said. “We didn’t win a championship, but it kind of felt like one. We knew we would be pretty solid before the season began. But after a few scrimmages, It looked like we were going to be something special.”

Falcione did not leave the cupboard bare, as his protege welcomed a solid group of returning starters to preseason practice.

That group consists of seniors Russ Cyprowski (OH), Nick Pouch (MH) and Colton Barr (L); and juniors Zach Remlinger (OH), Mason Hoydick (S) and Mark Campana (OH/RS). Remlinger was a second-team all-section selection a year ago; Cyprowski and Barr were named to the third team.

Barr is looking for the Highlanders to have a winning season, and hopefully win the section title.

“Our strength is our ability to work together as a team,” he said, “Our outside hitting is our strength, as well. In practice, we have been conditioning a lot which is already improving our team’s physical ability, and we focus on blocking, passing and serving.

“We all started (playing volleyball) our freshman year, and we’ve just stuck with it ever since. This class really boosted the program, as well getting it more involved.”

“My personal goal is to make first-team all-section,” Barr said, “but hopefully to lead my team to accomplish our team goals, as well.”

Baldwin is a senior-driven squad this year; there are 11 seniors on the varsity roster.

Also in the mix for playing time are seniors Tyler Gurchak (OH/DS), Colton Poe (MH), Austin Bechtold (RS), Joey Shields (DS), Nate Radomsky (MH), James Luttringer (RS), Tyler Pogany (MH/DS) and Jake Kemerer (OH); along with juniors Sujan Dangal (OH), Nabin Pokhrel (S) and Brendan Shaneman (MH).

“My expectations for this year are actually high,” Yekich said. “I am fortunate to have been a JV/assistant coach for the past two years, so I have a gauge of the players’ strengths and weaknesses and hope to use that to build a successful team. We lost a lot of key starters last year, but I believe we still have the core guys to make us successful.

“One key focus I wanted to work on and improve is our defense and ball-handling control. We unfortunately do not have any club players on our team, so the natural instincts of the game are not 100 percent there yet. Like the well-known saying goes, ‘Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.’ Everyone can hit the ball, but if you don’t have the defense to set up a play, you can’t hit.”

Mark Felbinger is Yekich’s top assistant; Denise Wells is a JV/assistant coach.

“Right now, we do not have a starting lineup,” Yekich said. “We’re still trying out a few combinations to see what works best.”

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