Year in and year out, pound for pound, Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 1 boys volleyball is one of the toughest divisions in the state.
Hempfield and Penn Manor are longtime juggernauts. Warwick is in the midst of a really nice run. Conestoga Valley is seemingly always in the mix come May. And while Cedar Crest, Manheim Township and McCaskey are in re-tooling modes of sorts, those squads always keep everyone honest.
How will things shake down this spring? Tough to say, considering nobody played in 2020 because of the state-mandated coronavirus shutdown. That means a lot of new faces and rotations. And, very likely, a wide-open race. It’s L-L League Section 1, so expect plenty of slugfests. Whoever gets their newbies up to speed the quickest, wins.
Previewing the Section 1 race …
CEDAR CREST FALCONS
COACH: Monica Sheaffer (2nd season — but first go-round on the bench, after last year’s shutdown).
2019 SEASON: Another step forward in the Falcons’ program with a couple of victories — and now Sheaffer is on board as Cedar Crest hopes to make some more noise against the usual Section 1 suspects.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: MH Noah Iceman, L Kyle Kreider, L Kyle Myer, OH/S Logan Wise, OH Alan Yang.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: S Ben Doutrich, OH Kayden George, OH Judah Wise.
DIGS: Sheaffer was set to take over in 2020, and even though there was no season, she has her fingerprints firmly on the program — a program looking for some stability. Having a couple of outside hitters and a setter returning is certainly a good start, but Sheaffer will be breaking in a slew of new varsity players. Patience will be a key with the Falcons, who will be an athletic bunch. Now Sheaffer wants to mold them into a fundamentally strong squad that will make the Section 1 crew earn every ounce on a nightly basis.
QUOTABLE: “This will most definitely be a development year,” Sheaffer said. “We have a lot of fresh faces and younger boys wanting to learn volleyball. The loss of time really effected our up-and-coming new players. Hopefully this coming season we’ll be able to work with the new players, and prepare them for an even better team for next season.”
CONESTOGA VALLEY BUCKSKINS
COACH: Blake Youndt (7th season).
2019 SEASON: The Bucks qualified for the L-L League playoff bracket, falling to eventual District 3 Class 2A champ and state semifinalist Manheim Central in the quarterfinals.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: OH/L Caleb Engel, MH Jared Martin, OH Jeremiah Pha, L Leo Pha.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: S Dominic Brabant, OH Charles Janvrin, MH Jayden Rice, OH Sawyer Shertzer.
DIGS: That’s certainly a good start for the Bucks, who have experience at some key spots, including a trio of front-row performers and an all-important setter. Youndt really likes his senior leadership, and says if his squad can get better in the blocking and serving departments, look out. With so many teams tweaking on the fly, CV would love to wedge its way up the charts this time around.
QUOTABLE: “Missing last season was a hit to the depth of everyone’s team, but we’re returning a very solid and focused starting core,” Youndt said. “Our expectations are the same as every year: Compete with everyone in the section and push every day to keep getting better as a team. We feel like the possibilities for this season are wide open, and we’re hungry for the chance to extend our season into leagues and districts, and hopefully states. We’re putting in the work now, and now we just need to improve from match to match throughout the season.”
HEMPFIELD BLACK KNIGHTS
COACH: Mike Vogel (24th season).
2019 SEASON: The Knights fell to Warwick in a blistering 1-match playoff for the section championship, but Hempfield rallied nicely to top the Warriors for their 23rd L-L League championship. After a setback against Central Dauphin in the D3-3A quarterfinals, the Knights came through the consolation round to top Exeter for a fifth-place finish and a spot in the PIAA bracket. There, Hempfield fell to eventual state-champ North Allegheny in the first round.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: OH Adam Brossman, OH Ian Crabtree, L Alex Drager, OH Owen Hanzelman, S Colson Hunt, MH Andrew Lewis, S Hudson Smiley, DS John Vogel.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: MH Ryan Givens, OH/S Grant Lorelli.
DIGS: Hempfield had section, league, district and PIAA championship aspirations in 2020, and the Knights had the senior-laden squad to check off any number of those boxes. But nobody got out of the starting gates and the season was a wash. The good news in Landisville is that a couple of hitters are due back to patrol the front row, including Givens, who is a spike specialist. Lorelli has overcome some injuries from earlier in his career, and he’s poised for a breakout season. Pretty much everyone else is new; Vogel is counting on Gerry Gallagher, Adam Gimeson, Nate Stoltzfus, Chris Rivera, Caden Bonner, Mason Orth, Michael Keene and Dante Keener to make an instant splash in their varsity debuts. Hey, it’s Hempfield. Youth or otherwise, here’s thinking the Knights will figure it out and be right in the thick of things come mid-May. It’s what they do.
NOTABLE: Hempfield is at No. 3 in the PVCA Class 3A preseason state rankings.
QUOTABLE: “The team has high expectations,” Vogel said. “We lost an opportunity last year to demonstrate how good the 2020 team was. The 2021 team will continue the effort from last year with many new faces. We’ll only have one returning starter in Ryan Givens.”
MANHEIM TOWNSHIP BLUE STREAKS
COACH: Eleanor Schultz (1st season).
2019 SEASON: The Streaks were just two years removed from an L-L League title, but were going through a rebuilding season of sorts; there was no postseason bid for Township that spring.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: OH Xavier Cedeno-Bravo, OH Anthony Depres, MH Vishal Win.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: OH Tam Dang, OH Lemaire Jean, OH Quinn McCarty, L Eric Moldenhauer.
DIGS: Now four years removed from an L-L League gold trophy, the Streaks are in re-tool mode — and now with a first-year skipper at the controls, as Schultz takes over in Neffsville. Her top priority is fundamentals and team chemistry, and she noted that her team’s blocking and serving were ahead of the curve during the preseason. More than anything, Schultz is looking for some stability for the long haul, so Township can squeeze its way back into the lead pack in this tough-as-nails section.
QUOTABLE: “At the start of the season, I told our players that my expectations were for each player to walk away having learned something,” Schultz said. “I know that they really didn’t have a season last year, and some hadn’t played for a whole year, so I want them to find their rhythm, achieve their personal goals, and as a team build a strong foundation to grow upon. If we can master the skills as a program, we can grow. We’re focusing on fundamentals first, and then expanding and building as we go.”
McCASKEY RED TORNADO
COACH: Jeff Kindrew (10th season).
2019 SEASON: The Tornado gave everyone fits — especially at the net — but McCaskey did not punch a ticket to the playoffs.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: S Tu Ha, MH Kenny Jaccinor, MH Yamere Nixon, MH Kyler Rodriguez, OH Ramcy QuiQui, OH Justin Troncoso, DS Saw Taw, DS Tun Tun.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: OH Alex Cordero, MH Sam Hershey, OH Christian Lopez, S Johnaxidier Lugo, S Cade Smucker, OH Kameron Yang.
DIGS: It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the Tornado the last couple of seasons. Three years ago McCaskey made a postseason trip and scared the living daylights out of everyone in Section 1. We’re anxious to see how Kindrew’s crew does coming off a shutdown season. Hershey — the Tornado’s football and soccer standout — will be one to watch at the net.
QUOTABLE: “Our strength, I hope, will be defense,” Kindrew noted, “but we will need to get better on offense. My hope for the season is that we jell as a team, which will help us overcome our inexperience and allow us to be competitive.”
PENN MANOR COMETS
COACH: Dustin Hornberger (1st season).
2019 SEASON: The Comets qualified for the L-L League bracket, and beat Lancaster Mennonite in a quarterfinal clash. But Penn Manor fell to eventual runner-up Warwick in the semifinals. The Comets turned around and faced the Warriors again in a D3-3A first-round matchup, and Warwick won that battle.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: S Dylan Jacyszyn, OH Bryce Julian, MH/OH Malachi Michael, OH Gavin Neuman, L Dom Roma.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: MH Riley Walton.
DIGS: Hornberger steps in for Chris Telesco, who spent 17 glorious years on the Comets’ bench. Penn Manor won 400-plus matches, plus three section titles, three league crowns and a pair of district championships under Telesco’s watchful eye. Expect a smooth transition here; Hornberger served as the Comets’ JV coach and was one of Telesco’s top lieutenants since 2014, so the kids know his voice. His top priority: Finding a rotation to flank Walton, who has some varsity run. Hornberger likes his team’s serving and defensive prowess early on, but says there will be a lot of newbies on the court in Millersville. That said, the bar remains high at Penn Manor.
QUOTABLE: “After the shutdown last spring, I know everyone in our gym is grateful for the opportunity to play,” Hornberger said. “We have a healthy mix of seniors and young guys filling the court this year. No one in our gym believes in a rebuilding year, so our goal is to compete. There will be hiccups, especially since we’re only returning one player (Walton) who has seen a varsity match thus far. We’re looking to put all of the pieces together quickly, and hit our stride at the right time.”
COACH: Nate Gajecki (19th season).
2019 SEASON: One of the most memorable in the history of Warwick’s program, included a thrilling victory over Hempfield in a 1-match playoff for the Section 1 championship — the Warriors’ first section gold since 1995. Warwick went on to top Elizabethtown in the league quarterfinals and Penn Manor in the league semifinals before falling to Hempfield in a championship-game rematch. The Warriors reached the D3-3A quarterfinals, where they fell to State College. Warwick’s glorious season ended with a setback against Exeter in the district consolation semifinals, as the Warriors missed out on a PIAA bid. But it was a heck of a ride for Gajecki’s troops.
SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: Connor Baer, Kam Brenneman, Cordell Gingrich, Brady Givler, Alex Sensenig, Dax Stauffer.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: OH Ryan Charles, MH Dawson Forney, S/OH Adam Gingrich, OH Jacob Lobb, OH/MH Colin Treibley.
DIGS: Will the good vibes continue to flow in Lititz? Warwick lost some studs from that high-flying, spike-fest 2019 squad, plus Baer, a smooth setter, from last spring. But Gajecki has some key pieces in place — keep an eye on Lobb, a real jumping-jack, in the front row — and he’s hoping Kyle Charles, a setter, Seth Graybill, a defensive specialist, and middle Landon Wenger will step in and pay immediate dividends. The Warriors still own the section trophy, so they’ll get everyone’s A-game on a nightly basis.
NOTABLE: Warwick is at No. 10 in the PVCA Class 3A preseason state rankings.
QUOTABLE: “We’re working hard to get back to the 3A district tournament,” Gajecki said. “So far in practice, I’ve been impressed with the team’s defensive play and ability to execute on offense. If we can continue to improve each day and to learn the system, we should complete their goal to return to a league and district playoff run.”