Volleyball Preview: New look for Schuylkill League
Jenna Dubosky (33) returns as part of a talented frontline for defending District 11 Class 2A champion Panther Valley. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO
Marian’s Alivia Karchner (33) and Macie Mazalusky (16) go up to block Nativity’s Emily Yordy. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
The Schuylkill Volleyball League will have a new look this season that includes division realignment and expanded playoffs.
The division realignment will impact three teams, including Marian and Jim Thorpe. The Fillies will move to Division 1 while the Olympians will now be in Division 3. The other switch has Minersville going to Division 4.
As far the playoffs are concerned, the league will expand from a four-team playoff that only involved the division champions to an eight-team format that will include the first and second place team in all four divisions. The league will then stage a three-day playoff that will feature quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
Six area teams are part of the Schuylkill League. In addition to Marian and Jim Thorpe, Panther Valley, Lehighton, Tamaqua and Weatherly will be trying to earn a berth in the expanded playoff setup.
Meanwhile, Palmerton and Northwestern will be chasing a Colonial League title, while Pleasant Valley will be battling in the powerful Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.
BREAKING IN THE NEW FILLIES … Gone are a host of All-State players from last season’s PIAA Class 1A state runner-up squad, but the cupboard is not bare for longtime head coach John “Doc” Fallabel. The Fillies are young and they have some inexperience, but athleticism is never short in the Marian volleyball program. Expect the Fillies to depend on leaders Alivia Karchner (MH), Macie Mazalusky, and senior Antonina Zeleniak (L,/DS/OH). Expect seniors Katie Spillman and Caroline Snerr to also offer leadership. “We’re solid, but we’re young, and you can expect to see as many as maybe four or five sophomores on the floor at one time this season. Our leaders are going to be important for us, because we’re going to need to see that floor leadership from our more experienced players if we want to be successful,” said Fallabel.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE … Helping the players mentioned above will be Tatianna Zeleniak (S), Jamison Wheeler (OH), Rebecca Dzuranin (RH/OH/MH) and Lacey Blasko (MH). Blasko is expected to make a difference in the middle with Karchner. There are also three freshmen who Fallabel likes, and believes are making a serious push for playing time in Charlotte Vincent (OH/MH/DS), Andi Hoherchak (OH/RH) and Ashlyn Klitsch (S/RH/DS).
LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN … The Fillies will be looking to capture their seventh consecutive District 11 1A championship this season. Marian has won 10 of the last 15 District 11 1A titles. The Fillies will be trying to complete that goal from a different division, moving from Division 3 to Division 1 this season, which geographically will cut down on the Fillies travel time for 2018. “I know it doesn’t help the bigger schools to play us, because we’re a smaller school, and I appreciate that, but I’m also glad that we can start playing our local rivals again. We will get to play some teams that we haven’t played in a long time, and we’re looking forward to that,” said Fallabel.
AWESOME OFFSEASON ... Head coach Nancy Filer has always had good participation in her offseason program in her years as the leader of the Panthers, but the group of girls she’s had for the last three to four seasons has been even more dedicated than most. The offseason is where championships can be won or lost, and with the Panthers recent dominance in District 11 2A, there’s no denying the work this bunch has put in. “I’ve never had a group that’s dedicated this much time into the offseason. Their work ethic has been great, and it’s really brought them together like a family. They just really love the game, and it’s made them a good team. They’re really fun to watch,” said Filer
GOING FOR THREE ... District 11 2A has belonged to the Panthers the past two seasons as they’ve captured gold. The goal is for them to reach that plateau once again, but the girls in black and gold are looking to add some new hardware to the trophy case - the vaunted Schuylkill League Championship. “This is a goal-setting team, and they know what they want, and they’re excited to go out there and compete for it. We know it won’t be easy, there are a lot of good teams in the area this year, and we know that, and that’s why we need to keep working to get better every single day.”
BACK IN BLACK ... The Panthers return three seniors who will offer leadership on the court in Rachelle Filer (MH), Emilee Kwaak (H) and Sarah Zabroski (S/OH). A powerful trio will also be back for PV in Jenna Dubosky (OH), Erika Dubosky (MH) and Olivia Dacey (OH). Gianna Steber (S/H) and Alexa Staloski (S/DS) will also see significant playing time. Newcomers to the lineup this season are Natalie White (OH), Alexis Cooper (DS) and Lyddia Malaska (S/H).
GETTING STRONGER … Jim Thorpe head coach Victoria Nichols put a strong emphasis in the offseason on getting her squad’s upper body strength stronger for this season. Nichols feels that in order to compete for a Schuylkill League playoff berth and advance farther into the district playoffs, getting her team stronger was a primary priority. “We put a lot of work into getting our upper body stronger and our core strength stronger. We lost five key contributing seniors from last season, so I knew we needed that extra edge. I know we have a team that can compete, but in past years against top-notch competition I feel like we could’ve been stronger, and I think this year we’ve improved there,” said Nichols.
MAKING AN IMPACT … Versatile Senior Kelsey Carroll (S) will lead the way. Others expected to make an impact are Brandy Montemuro (S/OH), Tamara Encarnacion (RS/DS), Autumn Snyder (MH), Anna Shigo (RS/DS), Mia Lowin (MH), Abbey McGinley (L), Katie DeMarco (DS), Sage Haukka (RS), and Olivia Wolfe (RS).
TAKING THE NEXT STEP … Nichols is looking for the program to take the next step in 2018. After finishing at 15-5 a season ago, the Olympians are looking to knock off some of the perennial powers that they’ve had trouble with over the past few seasons. Nichols believes Thorpe is pretty much solid at every position. “I really like our front-line length and our hitting, especially on the weak side, I really think we’re strong there. Defensively, I think we’ll be strong as well. Abbey McGinley will step right in back there where her sister was so good last season. Overall, I think we’re in a good spot, and I’m excited to get started,” said Nichols.
GOOD MIX … Lehighton head coach T.J. O’Connor likes the mixture of upper and underclassmen he has this season, and how they already seem to be jelling. “I think the girls have really come together nicely. We have a core group of seniors who are working well with the younger players. So far, I like everything I’m seeing, the communication is there and the comradery is there,” said O’Connor.
ON THE FLOOR … The Indians finished with an 11-9 record last season, losing to eventual district champion Allentown Central Catholic in the first round. The Tribe are looking to get back to the postseason yet again in 2018, and have a solid crew to help get them there. Core seniors Emily Miller (MB), Samantha Banning (DS), Lillian Brown (L), and Sydney Vincent (OH) will lead the group with Sophia Salerno (OH), Alexis Solomon (MB), Allison Reph (S/DS), Emma Schappel (S/MB), Michala Lucas (OH), and freshman setter Alyssa Frey all expected to contribute.
BALANCE … Balance will be the key for the Tribe this season, as they look to be equally solid on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball. While the defensive side of the ball is where the Indians were consistent a year ago, with the return of defensive players Banning and Brown, they should be even better this season. “I think our defense will be our strong point and can carry us early on until we get comfortable and in a groove offensively. I think we can be good offensively, and that we have the athletes to compete there, but on defense we have some experience returning, and will help us get to where we want to go,” said O’Connor.
EXPERIENCE RETURNS ... Nicole Hinkle, in her second season as head coach of the Wreckers, is excited about the experience returning to the team this season. Weatherly has nine returning seniors who were able to gain valuable playing time a season ago, giving the Wreckers depth heading into 2018. “I’m really excited about this season, and what we have coming back. We’re a senior-laden team, which is always good, and we’re an improved team. I really like how this group works together.”
LEADING THE CHARGE ... The Wreckers three captains will lead this experienced group. Emily Zoscin (OH), Nikki Polivika (MH), and Alexis Wilkinson (OH) will be the floor generals for Weatherly. The Wreckers will be running a 6-2 formation with Katie Graham and DeAnna Strouse tasked with the setting duties. Kayleigh Barnes (L), Abbey Hernandez (MH), Samantha Paisley (RS) and Arlene Connors (MH) will also see time.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE ... Coach Hinkle thinks the Wreckers can be a surprise team this season. With Weatherly’s experience, athleticism and depth, she could be right. “I think a big difference you’ll see from us this season is our hitting. I think we improved there a lot. We have a team that I think has really come together, and if we play to our potential, we can surprise people.”
TEAM CONCEPTS … Head coach Emilie Baker is excited about what she’s seen from her group from a team concept aspect. “I think sometimes in the past, we had a collective group of some good individual players, but that didn’t necessarily translate into good team play. This year, I like the way we look as a team. Everyone is picking each other up, nobody is ever down on themselves, I just have a good feeling about where we are as a team,” said Baker.
CONSTANT CONTRIBUTORS … A host of Raiders will be expected to contribute night in and night out. Emily Amershek (OH), Ella McLaughlin (L), Caroline Balogach (MB), Madison Baddick (S/DS), Brynn Gigli (S/RS), Kailyn Erbe (DS), Morgan Houser (OH), KayDee Romig (OH/MB) and Brianna Dinsmore (OH/DS) will all see valuable time on the court.
LOOKING TO IMPROVE … Baker is looking for noticeable improvement this season, and for the team to get a few more “W’s” compared to the past few years. Baker believes with their team-first attitude and improved defense and hitting skill set, that goal can be achieved. “We look better on defense, and the girls are really doing a better job of attacking offensively. I think the key for us is to play with confidence. We need to execute early on and do some good things so the girls can play with a little more confidence.”
SECOND SEASON … The Bombers are coming off their first ever volleyball season in 2017. Head coach Marsha Thomas is excited to dive into some more complicated facets of the game, with her team having a full year plus to pick up the basics. “We’ve worked through all the basics now and we’re becoming more team-oriented every day, making better decisions, they’re really learning the game,” said Thomas.
TOP PLAYERS … Palmerton will be counting on the big three of Madison Beahm (S/OH), Erica Messics (MH) and Crace Constenbader (L) to lead the Bombers. Cayci Reichard (OH) and Ella Cronk (S) will also see valuable time. Look for Lydia Delich and Brenna Bates to provide leadership.
SERVE AND PASS … Two areas the Bombers have improved on from last season are serving and passing, which will instantly make them more competitive this season. “Hands down our serving and our passing have improved the most. You can see that every day, and you can see a definite improvement in our play because of it. We just need to next work on communicating better and being more aggressive, but that will come once the girls feel more confident.”
FINISH … The Tigers finished 6-12 a season ago, but their won-loss record is not a good indication on how competitive they were. The Tigers lost some close matches, and second-year head coach Lexi Ashburne is hoping the close losses from 2017 can turn into narrow victories this year. “My goal for this season is for my team to develop the ability to finish during tight games. Last season, there were many games in which we were extremely close to winning, but within the last five points we would let the game run away from us,” said Ashburne.
TALENT RETURNS … Northwestern did lose four key starters from last season, but there is still plenty of talent returning. Jovina Fager (OH), Shante Duminie (OH), Ashley Bennicoff (S), Samantha McGinley (MH/OH), and Grace Shuhay (L) are all expected to make an impact on the court for the Tigers. A total of seven juniors are moving up to the varsity stage, coupled with four experienced seniors.
TRANSITION EXPECTED … Coach Ashburne has seen a level of play in both the offseason and in camp that has her excited about this year’s squad. “With the loss of many strong seniors and the addition of many new players, I expected a transition period. However, when the team attended the Penn State Team Instructional Camp over the summer, they blended instantly. I was impressed with the level of play I witnessed so early in the season,” said Ashburne.
THE DRIVE FOR FIVE … The Bears have been as consistent as any successful program in the Times News area in head coach John Gesiskie’s 25 years as head coach, and that expectation doesn’t change this season. The Bears went 16-12 last season, winning the Mountain Division Championship in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference for the fourth consecutive season. This year, Gesiskie and his bunch will be looking to make it five division titles in a row. “We need to take it one play at a time, and one thing we need to really focus on is our defense. We need to stay low and compete on every point on the defensive side of the ball. We have experience, we’re just not very tall and we’re not very deep, so we need to outwork and outhustle our opponents,” said Gesiskie.
RETURNING … Cameron Caffrey (S), Ari Weaver (OH), Desi Powell (OH), Summer Karaman (OH), Deis Beade (L), and Karysma Marshal (MH) all return to give Gesiskie a solid lineup to compete with. Freshmen Andrea Crilley (OH) and Mandy Beade (DS) are some youngsters who could see the floor this season.
BACK IN ACTION … After stepping away from the game for a season Madison Rosenburg (MH/OH) and Andrea Janak (S) will be seeing some significant playing time for the Bears.