First Day of Spring Sports

Manheim Central senior Jeremiah Zimmerman, setting the ball during practice, on the first day of spring sports in almost two years at Manheim Central High School on Monday March 8, 2021.

Volleyball is back, and the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 contingent is raring and ready to go, after missing the entire 2020 season because of the state-mandated coronavirus shutdown.

Manheim Central has had Section 2 under lock and key lately; the Barons have won the last three championships, and they’ll head into their March 30 opener against Lebanon riding a nifty 36-match section winning streak.

Is this the year someone will dethrone Central? With so many new faces on everyone’s roster, the section is certainly there for the plucking. The Barons will still have plenty of bull’s-eyes on their backs.

Previewing L-L League Section 2 boys volleyball for the 2021 welcome-back season

COCALICO EAGLES

COACH: Dwayne Kieffer (3rd season).

2019 SEASON: The Eagles made a couple of brackets in 2019. Cocalico fell to eventual champ Hempfield in the L-L League quarterfinals, and in the D3-2A playoffs, the Eagles fell to eventual district and state runner-up York Suburban in the quarterfinals.

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: OH Radislav Denishenko, Miguel Prysakar, S Simeo Prysakar, OH/MH Isaiah Ugalde, MH Gavin Zwally.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: S/OH Elijah Ugalde.

DIGS: Get used to hearing this a lot early in the season: There are a lot of new faces and not much varsity experience on Kieffer’s roster. That will be pretty much everyone’s battle-cry coming out of the preseason. Kieffer likes his setters — including Ugalde, who has some varsity court-time — but the Eagles will be young.

QUOTABLE: “We’re looking forward to the season,” Kieffer said. “We’re a young team, but we have players with club experience that will help our team be competitive. We should have some good play coming from our starters, with a bench of hard-working guys to help when called upon.”

ELIZABETHTOWN BEARS

COACH: Lamar Fahnestock (3rd season).

2019 SEASON: An L-L League playoff trip for the Bears, who fell to Section 1 champ Warwick in the quarterfinals.

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: MH Thomas Arendt, OH/MH Elijah Eberly, MH Gavin Gilhool, OH/DS Casey Lyons, OH Jacques Mortha, S Nathan Seeger, L Jake Sevcik.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: MH Matthew Gilhool, MH Josh McCoy, OH Eli Miller, OH Bryan Murray, S/L Billy O’Connell, S Dylan Shepherd, OH Damien Tobias, OH Rudy Woitas.

DIGS: The Bears were loaded for bear in 2020, and had the weaponry to make a playoff push and give Manheim Central a run for its money in the Section 2 hunt. Alas, a talented crop of seniors never got to play, so Fahnestock — like his 13 other coaching counterparts around the league — will be mixing in some newbies this time around. Circle Woitas. He’s a spike specialist; once he gets on the same page with his setters — Shepherd, O’Connell — look out. O’Connell, Murray and Tobias got some varsity run as freshmen two years ago. Tack on Woitas, and E-town might be ahead of the curve in the experience department. And that’s a good thing.

QUOTABLE: “With so much size and experience gone, we have a lot of room for development,” Fahnestock said. “We’ll be looking to Rudy to steady us, as we grow into a team and develop our own chemistry. Rudy is our only senior, and perhaps the best individual player I’ve ever worked with, and he should be fun to watch this season.”

EPHRATA MOUNTAINEERS

COACH: Bob Witwer (13th season).

2019 SEASON: No postseason bid for the Mountaineers, who made a late playoff push in a tough-as-nails section that produced four district-qualifiers and the D3-2A champ (Manheim Central).

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: MH Austin Brown, S/DS Christian Buskirk, OH Devon Eshelman, S Zach Farlow, MH/OH Jake Hartranft, OH Elvin Laguer, OH/L Sam Risser, DS Lucas Rupp, OH Ethan Sensenig.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: MH Jordan Buch, S Ethan Weaver, S Michael Wenger.

DIGS: Buch has some varsity experience at the net, and Witwer really likes his spike-and-block ability. Tack on a couple of experienced setters, and that’s certainly a good start for the Mounts. But like everyone else, there will be fresh faces aplenty all over the court for Ephrata, which lost a talented senior class.

QUOTABLE: “With only one senior player that has any varsity time (Buch) it will be a learning experience this season,” Witwer acknowledged. “Can we serve well? Pass well? Play great defense? Run an offense? We’ll be young, with six to eight inexperienced varsity players. But I’m excited at the prospects for this season, and the future.”

GARDEN SPOT SPARTANS

COACH: Ben Rutt (11th season).

2019 SEASON: The Spartans earned a slot in D3-2A playoffs, nabbing a bid in the last week of the regular season to go postseason dancing. There, Garden Spot fell to Section 2 foe Lancaster Mennonite in the first round. But it was a terrific late-season push for Rutt’s crew.

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: OH Matt High, OH Dan Horning, MH Logan Martin, MH Dwight Weaver, OH Andrew Zenter.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: OH Laine King, OH Derrick Lambert, OH/DS Tanner Laukhuff, OH/DS Austin Martin, S Jordan Martin, L Tyler Martin, MH Jack McCarty, OH/S Joe Sharp, MH Griffin Witmer, OH/MH Chandler Xiong.

DIGS: Garden Spot has a bigger “key players returning” list than most squads in Section 2, and that’s a good start. Do all of those guys have a ton of varsity experience? No. But Rutt loves his team’s flexibility and commitment to defense. With so many uncertainties, there will be no predictions this time around. But here’s thinking the Spartans will make some major noise in this chase.

QUOTABLE: “It was very unfortunate that last year was canceled, not only for my seniors, but for my young players as well,” Rutt said. “They missed a chance to see how much fun this game can be when it’s played right, and played as well as that squad could play it. However, this year, our cupboards aren’t empty by any means. The strength early on for this team in practice has been ball control and defense. This is a very scrappy group, and they can ball-control very well. This is a very deep and versatile team, with several guys able to play multiple positions, which gives us a lot of flexibility with our lineup.”

LANCASTER MENNONITE BLAZERS

COACH: Gary Martin (8th season).

2019 SEASON: The Blazers lost to Penn Manor in the L-L League quarterfinals before knocking off section rival Garden Spot in the first round of the D3-2A playoffs. Mennonite was eliminated after a setback against Lower Dauphin in the district quarterfinals, but it was another successful campaign for Martin and his Blazers.

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: MH Graham Brubaker, OH Hunter Brubaker, MH Justin Hoover, OH Nathan Longenecker, L Aiden Sommers, OH Noah Swartzentruber.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: L Josh Gingrich, OH Elijah Lazor, S Joseph Nguyen.

DIGS: In Lazor, Mennonite returns one of the top hitters in the section. He’s an imposing spike machine in the front row. Lazor made an instant splash as a ninth-grader, and he should draw plenty of attention at the net. It looks like the Blazers will be OK in the defensive department with Gingrich and Nguyen in the back. But — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — they’ll be flanked by a new cast.

QUOTABLE: “Coming off a shutdown year is tough,” Martin said, “but we’re fortunate to have some varsity experience coming back in Elijah Lazor, who contributed nicely as a freshman two years ago. We have several athletic guys that can play a variety of positions, which will be helpful as the season progresses.”

LEBANON CEDARS

COACH: Jeff Albright (10th season).

2019 SEASON: More baby steps for the Cedars, who are looking to gain more firm footing as a program. That doesn’t happen overnight, of course, and Lebanon plays in a rugged section. Still, Albright is determined to produce fundamentally sound players, and to give Lebanon’s opponents headaches. Losing an entire season to the coronavirus didn’t help this crew. But the Cedars will press on.

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: DS Todd Griffiths, S Adam Sandoval, MB/OH Sam Santos.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: S Justin De La Rosa, MH/OH Christopher Estrada, S Diego Ruiz, OH Abdiel Vega-Rivera, MH Jafet Quintana.

DIGS: Numbers could be an issue, but Albright has a nice nucleus to build around, with five players who have varsity experience under their belts. That includes Vega-Rivera, who was the Cedars’ kill leader and top server in 2019.

QUOTABLE: “We’ll be feeling the ripple effects of the 2020 shutdown for quite some time,” Albright said. “But we’re focused on the present, and we’ll continue to make gains with the players who are invested in the sport. We’re keeping the varsity squad close-knit with low numbers this spring. We’re honing in on areas of weakness, and we’re getting better each practice.”

MANHEIM CENTRAL BARONS

COACH: Craig Dietrich (13th season).

2019 SEASON: Another banner season for the Barons, who won their third Section 2 title in a row — while pushing their league winning streak to 36 straight in the process — before falling to eventual champ Hempfield in the league semifinals. But Central roared back in the D3-2A playoffs, blanking York Suburban for the first district championship in program history. The Barons then beat Archbishop Wood and Palumbo in the state playoffs, before falling to York Suburban in a rematch in the PIAA semifinals — just missing out on back-to-back trips to the state title match at Penn State; Central was the PIAA 2A runner-up in 2018.

SENIORS LOST FROM 2020 TEAM: OH Darien Colburn, Maliki Rivera, Quintin Rohrer, MH Logan Whitehouse.

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: OH/MH Blake Wagner, S Jeremiah Zimmerman.

DIGS: If you want to play deep into the spring and hang banners in your gym, you better have a pinpoint setter, and the Barons have that in Zimmerman, who was an all-state performer in 2019. Wagner also has some experience in the swinging department up front, but it looks like youth will be served in Central’s camp; Dietrich said he has three ninth-graders vying for a starting spot in the preseason. Can the Barons extend their streak and make it four section titles in a row? No guarantees this time around.

NOTABLE: Central is at No. 9 in the PVCA Class 2A preseason state rankings.

QUOTABLE: “We’re just excited to be back and playing out there on the court,” Dietrich said. “I’m looking forward to watching this relatively young roster grow as the season goes, and we’ll see what happens.”

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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