Crawford County is a hotbed for volleyball talent and this season will be no different.
Last year’s boys volleyball season saw two of the top four teams in the state hail from Crawford County. Three area teams were featured in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association top 10 poll, nine area players made the all-state team and 13 were named to the District 10 all-region teams.
The 2023 season will feature plenty of high-caliber volleyball as area teams vie for a District 10 title. The top two teams in the district playoffs will advance to the PIAA playoffs.
The season will also feature a traditionally successful program — Maplewood — resurrect its team after two years without enough players.
The Meadville Bulldogs have had quite a bit of success as of late. The team won a PIAA Class 2A title in 2019. After the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19, the ’Dogs put together back-to-back undefeated seasons, but lost to Lower Dauphin in the state championship both times.
Last year’s senior class left some big shoes to fill. They graduated with a record of 59-2, three District 10 championships, two PIAA silver medals and one PIAA gold medal.
The Bulldogs graduated all-state setter Caden Mealy, all-state middle hitter Cameron Schleicher and all-state outside hitter Julian Jones. Mealy and Schleicher are both playing at Penn State Behrend.
Returning from last year’s team is two-time all-state outside hitter Jackson Decker. The 6-foot 4-inch senior had 33 kills in last year’s state title match and is one of two returning seniors on the team. Hunter Graham, at libero, also returns.
“Jackson and Hunter by default have that leadership role,” Meadville head coach Nick Bancroft said. “Over just these past couple of weeks they are starting to learn and understand that role.”
Bancroft will look to a crop of underclassmen with limited varsity experience to fill out his starting lineup.
“We have a nice young crew coming up,” Bancroft said. “Three sophomores — Kellen Ball, Aslan Shaffer and Ben Fiely — will be battling all year for the two middle positions. Returning junior Jack Brown will be taking over the setting reins. Also juniors Kyle Peterson, Jacob Graham and Luca White look to contribute.”
There are also two newcomers that Bancroft expects big things from — Isaac Johnson and Luc Soerensen.
Johnson, a senior, switched his spring sport from baseball to volleyball. He played volleyball in junior high and is coming off a successful swimming season in which he competed at the state meet. Soerensen is a freshman outside hitter. At 6-feet 7-inches, he could see significant time opposite Decker in the offense.
“We are always looking to be competitive. It’s going to be a tough battle with teams in the region,” Bancroft said. “There are three or four teams right now that are pretty equal. We have some tough tournaments in Pittsburgh and State College that will help prepare us.”
Meadville started the season by placing second in its tournament earlier this month. The Bulldogs then beat McDowell in its first match of the season. Meadville was ranked third in the PVCA preseason poll.
The Cochranton Cardinals are fresh off an appearance in the PIAA semifinals.
Last year’s team lost to Meadville twice in the regular season, once for the D-10 title and one final time in the PIAA semifinal match. The Cards knocked off the WPIAL champion and the District 3 runner-up to get into the state semis.
Graduated from that team is all-state outside hitter Kyle Hoffman and all-state middle hitter Louden Gledhill. Hoffman is playing at Penn State Behrend this season. Also gone from last year’s team is setter Greyson Jackson, a second-team all-region selection.
The 2023 team returns all-state libero Andrew Custead and second-team all-region middle hitter Chase Miller. Custead made the move to setter this season.
“The region will be tough again this year,” Cochranton head coach Rob Cierniakoski said. “We are fortunate to have Andrew, Landon (Homa) and Chase’s experience and leadership back, but if we want to be in the mix it will need to be a team effort.”
Homa, a senior outside hitter and Dawson Carroll, a junior, will be featured in the offense. Brady Rynd, a freshman, led the team in kills in the Cardinals’ season opener and the 6-foot 3-inch outside hitter could be in for a big year.
Cochranton was ranked No. 5 in the PVCA preseason poll.
The Saegertown Panthers didn’t make it out of the district playoffs last season, but was one of the top teams in the state.
Saegertown’s highest rank was No. 8 in the PVCA poll. The Panthers lost 3-0 (23-25, 25-27, 31-33) to Cochranton in the district semifinal round.
Graduated from that team is a pair of all-state outside hitters in Jaden Wilkins and Conrad Williams.
“We did lose about 80 percent of our offensive production from last year,” Saegertown head coach Justin Johnson said. “I’m looking to try to distribute the ball a little more this year. Quincy Zook is a big hitter for us in the middle and Collin Jones and Sam Draa will be swinging on them outside. I’ll be looking for big production out of them.”
Distributing the ball will be senior setter Brady Greco, a Hiram College commit. Fellow senior Sam Hetrick is a returning all-region libero. Johnson will look to both of them for senior leadership.
“Brady, Sam and Quincy have the most experience of anyone on the roster. If we can get the passing to Brady there’s no question he’s one of the better setters in D-10,” Johnson said. “Sam has been playing back row for us since his sophomore season.”
The Saegertown starting lineup may feature a lot of new faces, but the expectations are always the same for the Panthers.
“We want to compete for a D-10 title and improve enough over the season to be in the mix at the end,” Johnson said. “There’s no question once again some of the best volleyball in the state will be played right here in D-10. It’s going to be a dog fight and there should be some great matches.”
The Conneaut Eagles and the first-year coaching staff of Shawnya Mast and Nate Resele entered the District 10 playoffs last season as the No. 5 seed.
The Eagles lost in the quarterfinals, but with another year under their belts, the coaches believe they’re trending in the right direction.
“We plan to keep the momentum building this season by really working on basics. We are now coaching the Conneaut boys volleyball program from the bottom up. We run a fifth- and sixth-grade group in the winter and we are currently coaching the middle school team as well as JV/varsity,” Mast said. “By doing this, once they get to the varsity level in a few years, they will know what to expect and the hope is the basic skills will already be engrained in them.”
Gone from last year’s team are several seniors including Evan Alsdorf, Carter Osborn and Daniel Ellis. This year’s team will be spearheaded by Nolan Rados.
Rados is committed to play volleyball at Thiel College next season.
“As a team, we set very realistic goals. Our goal is to improve our skill level and we want to be competitive in play in a really tough region and ideally make playoffs again,” Mast said. “We know there is no time for slacking off. I am looking forward to what these boys can bring this season.”
The Cambridge Springs Blue Devils are led by second-year coach Kyle Marzka.
Last year’s campaign saw the Blue Devils enter the postseason as the No. 6 seed, but the Devils lost to Saegertown in the quarterfinals.
“One thing I learned last year was how talented other teams grew throughout the year,” Marzka said. “With that being, said you need to be able to run a great offense to score. Passing will be extremely crucial and will be a great focal point for the team.”
Cambridge graduated one senior, Jackson Mumford, and returns a lot of players this year.
Marzka will lean on this year’s senior class of Van Jones, Josh Reisenauer, Brady Campbell and Kaiden Boozer.
“I expect our group of strong and talented seniors to play the biggest role,” Marzka said. “They all have starting experience and have really developed over the off season.”
Parker Schmidt, a 6-foot 4-inch junior, should make his presence felt at the net.
“I expect us to do really well this year with the amount of talent and strong group of returning players,” Marzka said. “I see us being extremely competitive this year if we play our style of volleyball.”
The Maplewood Tigers are back.
Maplewood, which won state titles in 1989 and 2000, did not have enough players to field a team in 2021 and 2022. The program claims 21 District 10 championships dating back to 1972.
After a two-year hiatus, the Tigers have 21 players on the roster with a lot of underclassmen.
Leading the Tigers will be first-time head coach Calum Hyde. Hyde, a 2012 graduate of Maplewood, said the team is excited to get back on the court.
“It has been a while since Maplewood had a boys team and the feeling in the gym is a mix of excitement and determination,” Hyde said. “We all have a huge hill to climb to get Maplewood back to a top contender in this district, but we have a very young and talented group of players who are working hard to learn and become better at the game.”
Hyde was an all-state outside hitter as a senior. He played under Sheila Bancroft and has been immersed in volleyball for a long time. When he wasn’t playing, he helped coach summer camps in high school. Since then, he was a student assistant at Slippery Rock University, played club volleyball, coached as an assistant at Conneaut and helped coach clinics over the summer.
Hyde will be joined by fellow Maplewood alumnus, Guy Dunkle. Dunkle is also a first-time coach.
“Guy collected multiple state championship medals himself when he was here. The two of us have a few alumni tournament wins under our belts as well,” Hyde said. “Both of us coming from the same program allows us to reinforce to the players that certain ‘Maplewood mentality’ that has made us championship teams/programs in the past.”
The Tigers have a young roster with one senior and four juniors. The most experienced player is junior Caden Lazorishak and Hyde expects him to play a key role as a player and a leader.
The team has its work cut out for it in a fiercely competitive region and district. Hyde wants his team to compete and learn every time they step on the court.
“We reinforce a learning mentality in every practice as well as a hunger to win. We are well aware that we might take some beatings right out of the gate, but as long as the players continue to work hard at improving their own game we can get there eventually,” Hyde said. “Building the environment comes first. My goal is to create a team atmosphere that above all else loves the game. Support and teamwork between the players will be instrumental moving forward.”
Maplewood will open its season at home on April 11 against Meadville.
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