Content courtesy of the Trib HSSN:
Deer Lakes boys volleyball coach Brady Schuller said he had a couple of curveballs thrown his way last year with some injuries to key players in a season that ended one win short of a second consecutive PIAA playoff berth.
This year the metaphorical pitch is more like a changeup.
Deer Lakes graduated eight seniors, including WPIAL Class AA MVP Dan Hutchinson and three others who made All-WPIAL teams.
Now, the Lancers have a completely new starting lineup.
The departures provide an opportunity for a team full of underclassmen to build chemistry and try to continue the tradition of formidable Lancers teams.
“We’re definitely starting fresh,” Schuller said. “They’re a young group, and they’re going to be together for a couple years. You can’t expect to fill the shoes of a WPIAL MVP overnight. You have to work at it. I expect them to improve every day and try and compete for a section title. It’ll be a lot harder than it has the past few years, but these guys are embracing it. They’re coming to practice with the right mentality.”
Aside from Hutchinson, the Lancers also graduated WPIAL first-team outside hitter Tyler Osselborn, second-team setter Josh Solomon and third-team opposite hitter Shane Yarussi. They also lost former All-WPIAL player Trevor Sutch, who had to sit out all of last season because of injury, and key contributors Devin Demase, Tyler Noble and Chad Tindall.
That group won back-to-back section titles, made a WPIAL finals appearance and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals two years ago. An ankle injury to Hutchinson last season in a WPIAL semifinals loss to Ambridge hindered the Lancers, and they fell against Montour in the consolation game.
Deer Lakes has four players with varsity experience returning — Devin Reiher, a sophomore who moves from middle hitter to outside; Darrion Demase, a junior libero; Scott Rothrauff, a junior outside hitter; and Paul Zalus, a sophomore middle hitter. Reiher filled in for Hutchinson when he was injured in the WPIAL semifinals.
Freshman Seth Sciubba steps into the rotation right away as an opposite hitter and will play all the way around. He is the younger brother of Kaylee, an all-state middle hitter on the Lancers’ girls volleyball team who will play at Westminster.
Schuller, who was on Deer Lakes’ last state championship team in 2011, has had discussions with his team about the successes of the past, and they want to keep standards high.
“They want to live up to the seniors before them and the classes before them,” Schuller said. “They ask me a lot about my time playing volleyball when we won the section three years in a row, a WPIAL title and states.”
Deer Lakes dropped its season opener against Armstrong, 3-0, on Friday and participated in the Norwin tournament on Saturday. Schuller saw some nervousness from his team Friday, which he expected given it was the first varsity start for most of them, but saw improvement throughout the match.
He expects the nerves to subside once they get some more matches under their belt.
“They just have to get the pregame jitters out and gain the confidence that they can play with the top teams in our section,” Schuller said. “They showed it in the third game (Friday). Once they got those jitters out in the first two games and the frustration, they definitely came out and played a better third game, but it was just too late.”
The Lancers are in Section 2-AA again with longtime rival Derry. The two teams split the section title last year, and the Trojans lost in the WPIAL championship and PIAA quarterfinals.
North Catholic, Mars and Obama Academy are other teams in the section that made the postseason a year ago. Summit Academy and Gateway, a newcomer that dropped down from Class AAA, are also in the section.
Deer Lakes opens section play Tuesday at Obama Academy.
“A lot of these teams in our section play very well defensively, and the last couple of years we’ve kind of relied on our offense,” Schuller said. “Now, we don’t have as much height or experience to rely on, so we’re going to have to revert back to being a good defensive team, as well.”
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