For The Tribune-Democrat
Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference girls volleyball coaches selected Bishop Carroll as the team to beat in conference play this fall.
The LHAC held its girls volleyball media day on Friday at Bishop Carroll. All conference teams except Johnstown attended the inaugural event, which included a vote by coaches on the top teams.
Bishop Carroll is expected to finish on top of the conference this year. Coach Joe Skura, in his sixth year with the Lady Huskies, doesn’t want the prediction to change the team’s focus.
“We are certainly hoping for big things, but I don’t want that prediction to take us off track,” said Skura, whose team went 17-7 last season while finishing as District 6 runner-up and a state quarterfinalist. “I want the girls to remain focused on their academics and our overall goals of improving and competing strongly every evening on the court. We have a very special team and they want to do big things, so we will see where the chips fall at the end of the season.”
Skura spoke of parity in the LHAC.
“We don’t have any cake schedules to say the least,” said Skura. “Donny Civis at Richland will have that team ready to go, while Bob Kasun at Bishop Guilfoyle has established a fine winning tradition, as has the Somerset program, which will be guided by Alix Rose.”
Skura made special mention of the Penn Cambria team and his mentor Leah Montgomery, whom he coached under for several years before taking the Carroll position.
“Penn Cambria is going to do well and they are going to surprise people. They have talent and athletes who love the game,” Skura said.
Kasun agreed with Skura’s outlook.
“There are some great programs in the league, like Bishop Carroll, Penn Cambria, Somerset, and Richland,” he said.
Kasun’s team is expected to finish among the top three in the conference according to the coaches poll.
“But there also are some programs making great progress, like Forest Hills, Westmont, Johnstown, Bedford, Cambria Heights, Central Cambria, and Bishop McCort.”
Kasun’s own Guilfoyle team returns two Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-state players in Annie Dombrowski and Logan McIntosh.
“Our senior class provides us with great depth and talent,” added Kasun. “On any given night Lindsie Welteroth, Alexis Hicks, Jennifer Patterson, Juliana Burke, and Bridgette O’Leary is capable of influencing a match.”
McIntosh is on target to break the Bishop Guilfoyle career digs record this season.
“We have depth at all positions and we’re hoping that will translate into very competitive practices and a strong season,” Kasun said.
Richland, Somerset, and Penn Cambria earned nods in the top three predictions as well.
“We hope to improve from week to week,” said Civis, a veteran volleyball coach who took the reigns at Richland this season. “The LHAC has talented teams that should prepare us for district play. Our returning letterwinners have experience in many areas.”
Rose believes her Somerset team will experience a rebuilding year.
“We are looking for some seniors to step up to the plate and get our younger girls some experience,” she said. “We are looking forward to the season and are hoping to win another district championship.”
Montgomery’s Penn Cambria team is expected to do well.
“We have some experience and some very young players,” said the head coach, whose team finished the regular season last year with a LHAC championship and undefeated regular season as well as a district title. “It will depend on us meshing and being focused and positive.”
Cambria Heights’ new head coach Lindsay Malloy, who played under Montgomery as head coach and Skura assistant coach at Penn Cambria, is positive about her new role.
“We have a number of very talented athletes and they have worked very hard through a tough preseason,” she said. “The improvement I have seen in just one week is amazing. I think we have the ability to surprise some people this year.”
Rodney Berkey, Bedford’s head coach, has a group of committed seniors who have played together since seventh grade.
“They communicate well, move to the ball, work hard, and have a great positive team attitude,” he said. “They have welcomed the new girls to the team and have stepped up to mentor them. Although we are rebuilding, the girls have set some very attainable goals for themselves. If they keep their positive attitude and continue to work hard, they will achieve their goals.”
Bishop McCort’s Laura Swank believes her team has the potential to be successful.
“The girls are committed and dedicated to the program,” she said. “They work as a team and communicate well on the floor. They work hard at practice. We do have height this year that will help us offensively. We are looking forward to a great season.”
At Central Cambria, Tracey Elkin believes her strong group of athletes are prepared to play tough team defense and smart, strategic offense.
“They have great team work ethic and nucleus,” said Elkin. “They have positive energy and a positive outlook on the season.”
Nicole Pelesky is in her second year with the Forest Hills Lady Rangers and has done well.
“We are optimistic about this season,” she said. “With four senior starters and a strong group of underclassmen, we are well-balanced and experienced. Lakin Stiffler, senior setter, will most likely reach 1,000 assists for her career this season.”
Westmont’s Denise Nairn had three girls in key starting positions graduate last year and is looking to underclassmen to fill those roles.
“I have a group of very hardworking girls who have great team chemistry and work well together on the court,” said Nairn.
The LHAC volleyball schedule begins on Thursday.
“We wanted to showcase the talent that is certainly out there in girls’ volleyball and get people excited about our upcoming season,” said Skura, who organized the first-ever LHAC volleyball media event. “Volleyball continues to get stronger and more popular, and I think it’s important to provide the opportunity to spotlight these talented young ladies and this highly fun and entertaining sport.”