Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
LANCASTER-LEBANON LEAGUE BOYS' VOLLEYBALL 2013
Making headway Traditional powers no longer the only game in town BY KEVIN FREEMAN, Sports Writer
For the most part, the Lancaster-Lebanon Boys' Volleyball League has been dominated by a handful of teams over the past few seasons.
Penn Manor, Manheim Central and Lancaster Mennonite each have been to the league championship match at least once in the last three seasons, and Hempfield's been in the game all three of those.
There are two reasons for this. The teams consistently in play for a title: a) have more than just a few players who play club volleyball, such as Junior Olympics volleyball; and b) have strong junior varsity and junior-high programs.
That may make for an unlevel playing field, but there are no real solutions to giving every team a chance at the title when the season begins. Volleyball is certainly not alone when talking about the impact of offseason play on scholastic sports. We see it in basketball, soccer, field hockey and ice hockey, to name just a few sports.
"If you want to play with the Manheim Centrals and win in the playoffs, you're going to have to play year 'round,'' Conestoga Valley coach Ric See said. "That's what the teams that are consistently in the playoffs are doing.''
As the 2013 boys' season tips off tonight, the favorites to make the league playoffs final four are the usual teams like Hempfield, Penn Manor and Manheim Central.
But maybe teams that have been outside the playoff field for the last several seasons or get to playoffs and lose in the first round are making some headway.
Take the Buckskins, for instance. Last season, CV had three players with club volleyball experience. This season, they have eight. A good feeder (junior high) system? They are working on that, according to See.
Last season's CV team, which went 4-8 in league play, had eight players transitioning from JV to varsity. Many of those players played on a Junior Olympics team in the offseason.
"I have a much better-skilled team this year going into our first match than I did last season by far,'' See said. "It's not even close. But I still say we're still one step ahead of last year.''
There's another dynamic at work at CV. It's a scenario that plays out in many schools as an undercurrent to the fielding of sports teams.
There are seniors with varying degrees of skill who expect that now, because they are seniors, it's "their turn.''
Not so fast, say the underclassmen -- particularly those whose skill is equal to that of the upperclassmen.
A situation like that can drive a wedge between teammates, but it can also be a motivating factor. Both "sides'' push to become better, thus improving the team.
"The seniors see this season as their moment to shine,'' said CV senior outside hitter Michael Shipman. "We've been playing since we were freshmen.''
Despite having six seniors on the team, See made junior Andrew Barton the team's captain. Barton, however, is not worried about team cohesion.
"I think it will work out because we play well together no matter who's on the court,'' he said. "We all get along.''
See said the players will have to learn to deal with lineup changes.
"They know that I don't care who plays -- seniors, juniors, sophs,'' See said. "Varsity is for the people who are the most talented and they all know that. At the beginning of the year, I told them it would be different. No promises. Because you're on the team, that doesn't mean you're going to play.''
See could have his choice of three different setters this season. Davy Prak has the most varsity experience as the setter, but John Meng did some setting last season. Then there is sophomore Justin Gorsuch, who set for his JO team. Gorsuch can also play libero.
Shipman will see an expanded role, going all the way through the rotation instead of subbing out of back row duties. Same for middle blocker Tyler Wenger. Bailey Eisenberger returns at middle blocker, too. Barton gives the Bucks someone who can hit from any spot on the floor.
CV also has a 6-8 middle in Brandon Riehl, who is a bit of a work in progress but could pay dividends as the season ensues.
"We have a young team and there are many things to work on, but it's mostly about building chemistry with one another,'' said Meng, an L-L League Honorable Mention selection last season.
While the Bucks look to push their way up the Section Two standings, a number of returning all-stars will bolster their teams' chances to stay among the league's best.
In Section One, outside hitter Garret Dimm is a returning PVCA AAA All-Star for Hempfield. The Black Knights also feature one of the top liberos in the league in Mitch Gregg.
In Section Two, Manheim Central returns PVCA AA All-Star middle Josiah Hershberger. He will have an experienced setter in Robbie Lawyer getting him the ball. Lancaster Mennonite features one of the top liberos in District Three in Class AA in Cole Hoover and four-year setter Nick Weaver.