By Lisa Renwick
One word can describe the Meadville boys volleyball team. Moxie. And there are four pretty good reasons why the Bulldogs have that force of character, determination, or nerve: Nick Bancroft, Tim Schleicher, Matt Izbinski and Dan Nelson.
That quartet has coached the Bulldogs to a perfect record, region and District 10 championships, and a trip to the state championship match. And they have done so with a ton of state experience behind them and rich family tradition.
Bancroft comes from a pretty stout volleyball background. But more on him later.
Schleicher, the head coach of the Meadville girls volleyball team the last two seasons, was 131-64 in 11 seasons as the head coach of the Linesville and then Conneaut Area girls volleyball teams. He won six region championships and two District 10 titles during that span and led the Lions to a state title in 2011.
Izbinski, who has been on the sidelines as an assistant coach with the Meadville boys since his graduation in 2013, played for Meadville when it played for a state title against Northeastern in his freshman season of 2010.
Nelson was also a part of that 2010 squad, which his father, Doug Nelson, coached. Ken Nelson, Dan’s grandfather and Doug’s father, led Meadville to its last PIAA team state title in 1964 in the same sport.
Now for Bancroft.
Bancroft played for a state championship in 2009 with Maplewood. He helped coach the Maplewood girls team to a state title in 2017. Bancroft’s mom, Sheila, a member of the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, has coached in eight state title matches. She’s won four.
Amanda (Bancroft) Bowes, Nick’s younger sister, played on Maplewood’s 2005 state title team.
If you are keeping track, that is a total of 16 state title match appearances (not including the one they will make on Saturday) by the members of the Meadville coaching staff and their families. Needless to say, Bancroft, Schleicher, Izbinski and Nelson know a little something about what it takes to be a state title contender. And they saw it in the Bulldogs clear back in October.
“We realized it early in the year,” Schleicher said. “Even during the winter stuff. We realized that we had potential to do something like this. It was just a matter of coming in with a new coach. And Nick has done an outstanding job with these kids.”
Bancroft isn’t taking sole credit.
“They’ve helped me a ton,” Bancroft said of his assistants. “They have eyes everywhere. They communicate with me very well and I respect their decisions. They’re talking to guys and I don’t even have to look; I know they are telling them the right thing to do. It’s so helpful to have them supporting me all the time.
“We have a lot of good resources.”
Izbinski said a key has been the quartet of coaches’ mixed levels of experience.
“It’s really fun because we have a lot of experience at different levels,” said Izbinski, who coaches Meadville’s 5th and 6th grade programs as well. “So we’re able to throw out all these things and combine them all at once. Especially at practice. I feel like we have a good mixture of old school and new school, so it’s easy to keep things nice and mixed up.”
While Bancroft, Nelson, Izbinski and Schleicher have experience in state title matches, the players on the Meadville squad have none. So, what advice do the coaches have for their players? It’s pretty simple: change nothing.
“Celebrate this night,” Schleicher said after the Bulldogs’ semifinal win over Ambridge on Tuesday. “This is a huge accomplishment for this program. This is my first run with the boys team and it’s been a lot of fun. But we’re not done. You go there and you can win it. It’s not just we got here. Let’s celebrate the fact that we’re here and we brought his program here.”
Meadville faces York Suburban on Saturday at noon for the PIAA Class 2A title at Penn State University’s Pegula Ice Arena.