Manheim Central v Hempfield-LL Vball Champs

Manheim Central's Mason Nissley (26) has his shot blocked by Hempfield's Elliot De La Torre (9) during game action of the LL boys volleyball championships at Manhiem Twp. High School Wednesday May 16, 2018.

Previewing L-L League Section 2 boys’ volleyball for the 2019 season.

Teams are listed alphabetically:

COCALICO EAGLES

COACH: Dwayne Kieffer (1st season, but Kieffer previously served as an assistant under Steve Strunk for the last three seasons, so he definitely knows his way around the Eagles’ huddle).

2018 RECAP: Cocalico went 6-6 in Section 2 play and 10-7 overall, and the Eagles were clipped by eventual champ Hempfield in the L-L quarterfinals before falling to Manheim Central by a 3-0 count in the D3-2A quarterfinals.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: S Thomas Denlinger, OH Adin Fry (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Caleb Horning (1st Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Dylan Ray, OH Bryce Templin.

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: OH/MB Tyler Eberly, OH Josh Martin, OH/MB Avery Stark (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star).

OUTLOOK: The Eagles have been major players in Section 2 and D3 circles the last couple of years, and hope to be yet again, despite some graduation hits and a first-year skipper. But Kieffer definitely knows the drill in Denver, so we’re expecting a smooth transition in that department. The good news is that three hitters are back in the fold — including Stark, an all-star performer last spring — and Kieffer is excited about newbie hitters Michael Pha and Peyton Stetter, plus Patrick Koller, who could step into the all-important setter role to replace Denlinger, who was Cocalico’s glue-kid the last couple of seasons.

QUOTABLE: “(We want) to play to our potential and be competitive,” Kieffer noted. “(We need) to play as one, united team.”

ELIZABETHTOWN BEARS

COACH: Lamar Fahnestock (1st season, but his second stint at E-town; Fahnestock also served as the Bears’ skipper from 2000 through 2005).

2018 RECAP: E-town went 7-8 last spring and missed out on the postseason.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Fahnestock inherited a squad with just eight experienced players — varsity or JV — back from last year. The Bears saw a trio of all-star players graduate last spring, including S Narvin Chhay (1st Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Austin Kreiser (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star) and OH Brice Reiman (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star).

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: OH Nick Chapman, OH Jacques Mortha, L/OH Jake Sevcik.

OUTLOOK: Welcome back Mr. Fahnestock, who returns for his second stint as Bears’ coach, replacing Bryan Buckius, who stepped down after last season. He takes over a squad that was socked by graduation, and another returning player suffered a broken leg and is out indefinitely. So newcomers aplenty in E-town, including Nate Seeger, who takes over the setter duties from Chhay, who was one of the best set-up guys in the L-L last year. And keep an eye on Mortha; he can really jump and make plays at the net. He should be a key weapon for the new-look Bears, who advanced to the title-match at Conestoga Valley’s season-opening tournament over the weekend. E-town fell to the Buckskins 26-24, 25-23 in the finale, yes, but to make a tourney title match right out of the chute will only help the retooling Bears moving forward.  

QUOTABLE: “While on the surface it would appear that we’re just working on rebuilding, I feel that if we can overcome our lack of experience, we could be a factor in Section 2,” Fahnestock said. “I’m very impressed with the attitudes and efforts I’ve seen from all of our players, and I’m excited to be a part of this journey.”

EPHRATA MOUNTAINEERS

COACH: Bob Witwer (11th season at the helm in Mountaineer Country).

2018 RECAP:  A 4-10 finish in a retooling season of sorts for the Mounts.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: MH Trey Farlow (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star and 3-time L-L All-Star performer), OH Matt Ueberroth.

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: S Connor Komancheck, OH Jose Laguer-Seda, OH/MH Elias Long, L/OH Dane Waltman.

OUTLOOK: Ephrata is due. It’s been a few years since the Mounts made a playoff push, and despite the loss of crackerjack — and ambidextrous — all-star hitter Farlow, Witwer has a pretty nice nucleus to build around, including vet setter Komancheck to direct traffic. Witwer is also excited about some hitters coming up through the pipeline, like Jordan Buch, Devon Eshleman and Ethan Sensenig. Remember their names. And there’s another Farlow on board — defensive specialist Zach — so don’t sleep on Ephrata, as it readies for another run.

QUOTABLE: “We’re a well rounded team,” Witwer reported. “We’re looking for good leadership and play from the seniors, as well as some big things from our junior and sophomore hitters. Our guys had a great winter season, and they’re ready coming into the spring.”

GARDEN SPOT SPARTANS

COACH: Ben Rutt (His 9th season at the helm in New Holland).

2018 RECAP: Spartans went 9-7 overall and finished third in the Section 2 race. Garden Spot fell to Warwick in the L-L quarterfinals, and did not qualify for the D3-3A tourney. The Spartans bump down to Class 2A starting this season.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: OH Carter Eby (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, and now playing at North Greenville University in South Carolina), OH C.J. Murray (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Devin Weaver (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Andrew Yang.

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: OH Garrett Fisher, Aaron Lapp, S Devon Martin, OH Travis Myers, MB John Sauder, MB Dwight Weaver, OH Caiden Witmer.

OUTLOOK: The bad news, obviously, is that kill-specialist vets Eby, Murray and Weaver have moved on. That’ll hurt. But there is some good news in New Holland, like Martin coming back as the setter, with several experienced hitters at his disposal, like Fisher, Myers and Witmer. Dropping down to Class 2A might also help this group, when they start tallying up power points in a couple of months. Be patient, Spartan Nation. Some newer faces, yes. But don’t sleep on these guys.

QUOTABLE: “We took a big hit in the graduating class, losing our three biggest offensive weapons from last year in Carter, Devin and C.J.,” Rutt said. “So the focus this year is ball control and defense and using that to set up our offense. This is a scrappy bunch, and that has to be our focal point.”

LANCASTER MENNONITE BLAZERS

COACH: Gary Martin (6th season, and the Blazers are 65-24 under his watch).

2018 RECAP: Mennonite went 12-4 last spring, finishing second in the Section 2 race. The Blazers fell to McCaskey in the L-L quarterfinals, and then dropped a narrow 3-2 decision against York Suburban in the D3-2A quarterfinals.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: MH Stephen Baak (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Konrad Martin (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, D3-2A All-Star, and now playing at Lancaster Bible College).

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: MH Seth Harmer, S Ben Lefever (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star), L Paul Peachy, L/OH Gabe Willig (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, D3-2A All-Star).

OUTLOOK: The Blazers lost front-row stalwarts Baak and Martin, and that will definitely sting. But there are some key kids due back from last year’s D3 qualifier. Start with the athletic Willig, who is tough in the back row digging volleyballs out, and up front, putting away points at the net. Lefever is a wily setter, and he’ll find Willig and Harmer at the net for sure. And Peachy is one of those jack-of-all-trades kids who does things that don’t always show up in a box score. It’ll look a little different in the front row at Mennonite, but we think the Blazers have the goods to be running with the lead pack come early May. They proved that right out of the chute, reaching the semifinal-round of Hempfield’s always grueling Joust Tournament on opening weekend. Mennonite fell to eventual runner-up Penn Manor in the Final Four — but the Blazers certainly got everyone’s attention.

QUOTABLE: “We have a good core of seniors this year, as well as some underclassmen that will hopefully be ready to go,” Martin says. “We have to minimize our mistakes, play good defense, believe in ourselves and learn to play consistent ball.”

LEBANON CEDARS

COACH: Jeff Albright (7th season in charge of the Cedars’ program).

2018 RECAP: Lebanon went 0-16 last spring, but continues to make strides. In fact, the Cedars received the L-L League Officials’ Team Sportsmanship Award in 2018. So they’re doing things the right way — while making some baby steps on the court.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: None reported, so Albright has several experienced players back in the fold. And that’s a good thing for a program looking to break through.

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: L Todd Griffiths, S Sabhorak Horn, OH/MH Tanner Mease, S Adan Sandoval-Rocha, OH/MH Sam Santos, OH Abdiel Vega-Rivera.

OUTLOOK: It’s the proverbial “the only way to go is up” tagline for the Cedars, who are striving to keep everyone honest while building a competitive program. Kudos to these guys for trusting the process, and so far, so good this spring: Lebanon opened with a 3-0 nonleague win over neighboring Cedar Crest, and a 1-0 start is exactly what the doctor ordered for the hungry Cedars.

QUOTABLE: “We’re a 50-percent mix of returning players and new players,” Albright said. “The focus for the preseason was getting team chemistry started, and allowing them to get a feel for playing styles. As the season progresses, there is potential for many players to be highlighted, but the focus will be playing as a team, no matter the outcome.”

MANHEIM CENTRAL BARONS

COACH: Craig Dietrich (His 11th season in Manheim as Barons’ boss).

2018 RECAP: Section 2 champs went 22-3 overall, and those losses were against Hempfield in the L-L championship match, and twice to Northeastern York — in the D3-2A finale, and again in the PIAA-2A state-championship match. It was an outstanding season for the Barons, but they couldn’t conquer Northeastern York, which won its sixth PIAA gold trophy in a row. Northeastern York shifts up to Class 3A this season, by the way, so the Bobcats won’t be in the Barons’ way later on.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: S Ben Burkhart (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, Section 2 MVP, D3-2A All-Star, PVCA-2A All-State), OH Ben Lehman, OH Brad Myer, OH Isaac Shenk (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, D3-2A All-Star), OH Tanner Stauffer (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, D3-2A All-Star, PVCA-2A All-State, and now playing at Stevenson University), OH Gabe Stewart (1st Team Section 2 All-Star), OH Josiah Zimmerman.

IMPACT PLAYERS RETURNING: L/OH Brandyn Musser (2nd Team Section 2 All-Star, D3-2A All-Star), OH Mason Nissley (1st Team Section 2 All-Star, D3-2A All-Star, PVCA-2A All-State), Ben Wolford.

OUTLOOK: It’s been a rip-roaring ride as of late for the Barons, who went to league, D3 and PIAA championship matches last spring. Yes, Central fell in all three of those gold-trophy tilts, but those were the Barons’ only three setbacks all spring. And then, well, and then graduation night rolled around, and Dietrich watched some major studs pick up their diplomas and exit his program. Yes, that “key players lost” column is depressing for Baron Nation, but take a second and look at what those players accomplished; 2018 was an unbelievably special season in Central lore. So can the Barons do it again? The good news is that arguably the best Class 2A player in the state is back; Nissley is freakishly fantastic at the net, and he’s an absolute spike machine and worth the price of admission alone. Musser, a super-reliable libero who also saw some time in the front row last spring during Central’s playoff ride, is also back. So the cupboard isn’t completely bare in Barons’ Country. But Nissley and Musser will have a lot of newbies flanking them. Still, we’ll hang the Section 2 bull’s-eye on the Barons’ backs. And if you haven’t seen Nissley, don’t miss him. He’s a treat. Nissley and his mates came out swinging at North Allegheny’s powerhouse season-opening tournament over the weekend; the Barons went 2-2 and finished third in Pool B play behind North Allegheny and Northeastern York — the two reigning state champs — before shuffling off to the Sweet 16. The Barons beat a familiar face, Warwick, in the quarterfinals, before falling to Northeastern York (again) in the semifinals. Central York KO'd North Allegheny and beat Northeastern York in the title match. FYI: York Suburban won Hempfield's tough-as-nails Joust Tournament over the weekend, which begs the question: How great is boys' volleyball going to be in York County this spring?

QUOTABLE: “We don’t have a lot of depth, like we’ve enjoyed the last couple of years, so we’ll need to avoid injuries if we want to have a long postseason run,” Dietrich said. “We’re breaking in a new setter (Jeremiah Zimmerman), and he’s doing a nice job running the offense so far.”

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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