Young players key to Bishop Canevin’s success on court

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Saturday, September 30, 2017 | 1:21 AM


When Tamara Blue was a ninth-grader in the Bishop Canevin volleyball program, she had about a dozen of her classmates to keep her company. Three years later, because of transfers and simple loss of interest in the sport, she is the only member of the Class of 2018 remaining.

Blue, a middle hitter, was left with a lot of responsibility. Though Bishop Canevin returned most of the players from its WPIAL Class A runner-up, many of them were still young. Blue even asked juniors Kylie Airesman and Alexis Zarnick to be “honorary seniors” to help carry some of the leadership burden.

The Crusaders are following their lead and started 8-0 in Section 3-A, earning a top ranking in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches poll.

Rankings mean little to coach Kevin Walters as he tries to prod his team to the WPIAL title that eluded it last year. His primary concern is getting his young players to continue moving forward.

“We're still young, but we're older than we were last year,” Walters said. “Hopefully by the time a lot of these kids are seniors, it all clicks.”

Blue said she believes something already is clicking with this team.

“This team definitely has its own personality with having so few upperclassmen,” she said. “We definitely have more of a bond than the majority of the teams I've been on.”

The Crusaders' success, she said, starts in the back row with sophomore Hannah Delisio and junior Gabby Matakovich. Their accurate passing helps the offense to run in sync.

But even when the offense is running smoothly, Walters said, the players sometimes have trouble keeping their aggressiveness in check. He pointed to a recent 3-2 section win over Fort Cherry to illustrate his point.

The match was played in front of a boisterous Canevin home crowd that was countered by a large contingent that traveled from McDonald to support their Rangers. That lent a playoff-like atmosphere to the match, and Walters said some of his players were too pumped up.

The win, he said, almost was less important than the lessons it taught.

“Losing that match wouldn't have made me unhappy,” he said. “This group is figuring that out, playing under control. Everybody wants to hear that ‘Oooh' from the crowd, but I want to see (them) put the ball over the net and let the other team see what it can do.

“But this is what we should be playing for, not going out and kicking the crap out of a team 25-5. What does that get you? This is what the playoffs are going to be like.”

To further expose his players to playoff-type competition, Walters routinely schedules nonsection matches against Class AAA and AAAA teams. But regardless of whether the Crusaders are playing a big school or the last-place team in their section, they are accustomed to getting everyone's best shot.

Bishop Canevin has won two of the past four WPIAL Class A titles, so beating the Crusaders is a season-maker for many teams. Blue said she is optimistic this group is up to the challenge.

“I am pretty confident in this team,” she said. “We only lost two players, and we had the underclassmen step up and fill those shoes. They're doing an amazing job.”

Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.

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