Fielder of dreams
Fielder of dreams BY KEVIN FREEMAN, Sports Writer
When the Hempfield boys' volleyball team gets a big swing that results in a point, most times you can trace the genesis of that point to one person: Mitch Gregg.
While many fans see the ball thunder off the hitter's hand, the key is putting the ball in the right position for the hitter to hit it.
So, go back. The kill is the result of a successful set. The set is the result of a successful pass and the pass is the result of a succesful serve-receive.
Anyway, it's Gregg's job to field the opponent's serve and get the ball to the setter.
As the Black Knights' libero, he never rotates to the front. He receives the serve and digs the opponent's swings.
Gregg's play has been a key in leading Hempfield to first place in the L-L League's Section One, the top power ranking among District Three Class AAA schools and a No. 7 ranking among AAA schools in the state.
Gregg, a senior, has been a solid performer for the Black Knights all season but his impact was certainly evident this past Saturday at a tournament at State College High School.
In a one-game quarterfinal against Central York, which had a 25-point cap (win by two thereafter), the Panthers outlasted Hempfield, 49-47. Hempfield coach Mike Vogel, who's been around volleyball for many years, said it was the highest-scoring game he's been involved in.
"There were six teams at the tournament,'' Vogel said. "While Central York and us were playing, the other four teams were watching, waiting for us to finish. They gave us a standing ovation when it was over. They appreciated it.''
But it was a game in which Gregg had to make correct reads on serve-receive and come up with some big digs. He estimated making 12 or so digs after the teams passed the 25-point cap.
"Mitch's serve-receive was near flawless,'' Vogel said. "He made quality passes to our setter and had some phenomenal digs.''
Gregg grew interested in volleyball in grade school, playing in gym class. In eighth grade, he played rec volleyball with current teammate Garret Dimm. Dimm's father, Gary, was the coach of the rec team.
"I helped with a volleyball camp in the summer and that helped me with my form,'' Gregg said. "Helping kids made me a better player.''
Gregg, an L-L League Section One First-Team All-Star and District Three Second-Team All-Star last season, caught Vogel's eye as a freshman. It was Gregg's quickness that Vogel noticed. Over the course of his career, Gregg added the abilty to read opposing hitters.
"Mitch's greatest attrtibute is that he can anticipate where the ball is going to go,'' Vogel said. "He's got great court awareness and that's a gift.''
Gregg said that if an opposing hitter drops his elbows, the ball will be tipped over the blockers or it will be a roll shot. He watches opponents' elbows and shoulders to get hints as to where the ball is going.
"Mitch does a good job of knowing where to be and where to pass the ball,'' said Hempfield's Garret Dimm, an outside hitter. "He always picks us up and is a good team leader.''
Gregg credits Gary Dimm, former Hempfield JV coach Ryan Wood and Gary Vogel, Mike Vogel's son and a former Penn State player, for helping him with his libero skills.
"The thing about Mitch is, he's a coach on the floor,'' said Mike Vogel. "Plus, he's a gamer. There is no fear.''
At 5-foot-7, Gregg is smaller than most liberos. That height keeps him closer to the floor (for digs) but may limit his range. Still, he gets to a lot of balls.
While the hitters score most of the points, liberos get their thrills from keeping the ball off the floor and then seeing their team score.
"When (opponents) have a really hard hit, I see where they are hitting it and I dive for it,'' Gregg said. "That's the best part.''
There are occasions, however, when a libero can record a point. In the 49-47 marathon loss to Central York, Gregg saw that all of the Panthers were close to the net. Instead of setting the ball, which he is occasionally called on to do, he floated the ball over his opponents' heads and hit a spot just inside the line at the back.
"It was a critical point,'' Vogel said.
There will be more critical points to come for Gregg and the Black Knights. Their string of five straight L-L titles was broken by Penn Manor last season. And the 12-time District Three champs seek a return to the district title match after falling to Chambersburg in the semifinals last season.
Certainly Hempfield's hitters will have to do the job at the net. But they need a decent set and pass to be able to do that job. They will have a better-than-even chance of making big swings knowing the start of the play is in good hands.
nMitch Gregg's work at libero may be relatively unsung, but his Hempfield coaches and teammates know what it means to their tradition of success.