Lancaster-Lebanon League boys volleyball — cue the confetti and drum-roll please — is back.
After a lost 2020 season because of the state-mandated coronavirus shutdown, volleyball — and all the spring sports — are set to resume. There will be protocols, truncated schedules, live-streaming broadcasts aplenty and very likely a different playoff format later this spring.
But the overwhelmingly spectacular news is that spring sports are indeed set to return. The first official play-date for volleyball, lacrosse, track and field, baseball and softball is Friday.
With L-L League boys volleyball poised to make a rousing comeback, here are five things to watch as the season unfolds:
The PIAA has recommended that the same coronavirus protocols used for girls volleyball last fall remain in place for boys volleyball this spring. That means players, coaches and game officials wearing masks, and plenty of social distancing on the court, like teams using the same bench for the entire match, limited on-court contact and new-look pregame routines.
While the use of line judges was optional during the regular season last fall on the girls side, line judges will be brought back for all boys matches this spring. Also, as far as fans in the bleachers go, the state is allowing in 15 percent of an indoor venue’s capacity, so there will be some spectator limits. Is it going to look normal, like in 2019? Not quite yet. But hey, they’re playing.
Going back to 2019, the reigning section champs are Warwick in Section 1 and Manheim Central in Section 2.
The Warriors outlasted Hempfield in a riveting one-match playoff for the section championship — Warwick’s first since 1995 — and the Barons cruised to their third section banner in a row, running their league winning streak to 36 straight in the process. Central will put that streak on the line on March 30, when Lebanon visits Manheim for the Section 2 opener.
The reigning league champ is Hempfield, which rebounded nicely from its setback against Warwick in the section title-match for a victory against the Warriors for the Black Knights’ — gulp — 23rd L-L League championship. That’s a record.
Mike Vogel’s Hempfield club was stuffed with senior talent in 2020, and had the goods to make an extended run last spring. But the Knights, like everyone else, were relegated to video-conferencing meetings and a new normal.
Central is the reigning District 3 Class 2A champ; coach Craig Dietrich’s Barons blanked York Suburban for their first district title in program history, before falling in a rematch against the Trojans in the PIAA semifinals — one year after Central played for PIAA gold in 2018.
When we last left L-L League boys volleyball — and yes, it seems like an eternity ago — Warwick, Hempfield and Manheim Central were making the most noise, so there will likely be a lot of eyeballs on those outfits to see if they can keep on keeping on this spring.
Of note, all three of those clubs are listed in the PVCA preseason state rankings: Central is No. 9 in Class 2A, while in Class 3A, Hempfield is No. 3 and Warwick is No. 10.
Just two L-L League all-stars are due back from 2019; Hempfield hitter Ryan Givens and Central setter Jeremiah Zimmerman are set for their senior seasons. The sophomore class in 2019 — remember, a good chunk of those players across the board were very likely JV contributors — are seniors now, and will be counted on to be team leaders, with zero varsity matches under their belts from last year.
Three new coaches are set for their rookie campaigns, and they all call Section 1 home; Monica Sheaffer at Cedar Crest, Eleanor Schultz at Manheim Township and Dustin Hornberger at Penn Manor are all settling in at their new gigs.
Sheaffer was set to go in 2020, while Schultz was a recent hire at Township, replacing Streaks’ football skipper Mark Evans, who was ready to take over Township’s volleyball wheel in 2020. Now Schultz has the keys to the Streaks’ program.
Hornberger, a longtime assistant coach at Penn Manor, steps in for Chris Telesco, who was a fixture on the Comets’ bench for 17 years, guiding the Comets to 400-plus victories, plus three section titles, three L-L League crowns and a pair of district banners before stepping down last August.
At 24 years in the saddle in Landisville, Vogel at Hempfield is the league’s longest-tenured coach.
WHAT TO WATCH
Nobody has played since 2019, and an entire crop of seniors lost their final seasons on the court last spring, so predictions are pretty much out the window, as all 14 L-L League squads start anew. Did every program blow everything up and start from scratch? Of course not. But there are an awful lot of new faces in very important places at every outpost in the league.
Perhaps the only sure thing going into this season is that the usual-suspect programs might be ahead of the curve, since their pipelines always seem to be freshly stocked with talent coming up through the program. How quickly everyone shakes off the rust and gets up to cruising speed will determine who is still standing come crunch time in May and June.