Young Deer Lakes volleyball gaining confidence with wins

Sunday, April 21, 2019 | 4:34 PM

Deer Lakes advanced to the playoffs of the Plum boys volleyball tournament in mid-April, the Lancers’ most recent weekend competition. And although the run ended quickly with a loss to Saegertown, Deer Lakes showed reasons for optimism.

A young and inexperienced roster is showing signs of progress on the court — plus a needed boost in confidence — that gives coach Brady Schuller hope the Lancers can make a second-half push toward the postseason.

“We’re playing better teams like Saegertown, Fox Chapel — a (Class) AAA team — and Canon-McMillan. We’re playing them a lot closer,” Schuller said. “Even in tournaments, you can see the confidence level grow from the first tournament to our last tournament.

“They’re definitely playing with a lot more confidence, not letting the bigger-name teams have one up on them, where they’re making mental mistakes because someone has a good team. They’re not going into the game with nervousness anymore.”

It took some time for that confidence to develop, and for good reason. Deer Lakes lost the bulk of its roster from last season, when the Lancers advanced to the WPIAL semifinals.

The losses included reigning WPIAL MVP Dan Hutchinson, four more players who made all-WPIAL teams either last season or earlier in their Deer Lakes careers, plus three more contributors, leaving precious little experience behind.

But after beginning the season with consecutive losses to nonsection opponent Armstrong and Section 2-AA opponents Obama Academy and Derry, Deer Lakes (4-5, 3-3) won four of six matches to edge closer to .500 as the second half of the season begins.

“We started off like a young team would,” Schuller said. “But we’re finally starting to put it together.”

Deer Lakes has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs every season since 2006, when boys volleyball split from one classification to two. The Lancers won WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2011, when Schuller played for them.

Outside hitters Devin Reiher, a sophomore, and Seth Sciubba, a freshman, are leading an improved offense that lost much of its production from last season. Reiher paces the team in kills, and Schuller said the former middle hitter’s leadership is felt.

That’s not the only improvement Schuller pointed to.

“Communication’s a big one, especially when we get down,” Schuller said. “When you lose a couple points, if you don’t have good communication, if you don’t have guys picking each other up, you’re going to struggle. They’re definitely doing better picking each other up and just responding.”

For the improvements Deer Lakes made to this point, Schuller said the Lancers have work to do if they want to continue their postseason streak. Six section matches remain, including rematches with three teams that beat the Lancers the first time: Derry, North Catholic and Obama Academy.

The Lancers will get their first test Tuesday when they visit longtime rival Derry, one of the top teams in Class AA.

“As far as the second half goes, mental mistakes are a big one for us,” Schuller said.

“Serving is particularly a big one. We’ve spent the past couple days working on serves, making them aggressive and consistent. Just small things. We’re kind of fine-tuning things now, just getting things to where we can make a good run.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .


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