The Blackhawk High School girls volleyball team has been without its top player during the opening weeks of the season and coach Robin Ostach isn't sure when or if her daughter will return.
"Kristen blew out her ACL during a Junior Olympic tournament in Columbus on Feb. 7," said coach Ostach, who has that fateful day committed to memory. "She's running now, but not cutting yet. I'm not sure if she will be back this season. We're not going to bring her back until she's ready."
Kristen Ostach is a 6-foot senior middle hitter who has been a mainstay in the Cougars lineup since her sophomore year. She was voted second-team All-WPIAL Class AA last year.
"We miss her so much," Robin Ostach said. "She's such a force. I really feel sorry for Kristen, especially because it's her senior year."
Ostach is one of five expected returning starters from a squad that advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for the second time in school history. The Cougars fell one win short of a PIAA berth after losing to Hopewell in the semifinals and West Allegheny in the consolation final.
"It was amazing to get that far. It's only the second time in school history that Blackhawk played in the semifinals," said Ostach, referring to the 2009 season in which the Cougars placed third.
Blackhawk has made five consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances and despite Kristen Ostach's absence, the Cougars seem likely to keep that streak alive.
"Hopewell is obviously the team to beat in the section, and possibly in the WPIAL," Ostach said. "Beaver is also good, so winning a section title will not be easy."
Blackhawk and Hopewell both have 3-0 records in Section 1-AA. Beaver is third, with its only loss coming to Hopewell. The Cougars defeated Beaver Falls, 3-0, Tuesday. Hopewell also won its home match Tuesday against Mohawk, 3-0.
"We will find out where we stand [tonight] when we face Beaver on the road," Ostach said. "Then next Tuesday is our first match with Hopewell."
Hopewell is No. 1 in the WPIAL Class AA rankings, while Blackhawk is No. 6.
"That's probably where we should be in the rankings when you consider our injury situation," Ostach said.
The four healthy returning starters are 5-5 senior setter Brittany Davids, 6-0 junior middle hitter Haley Schramm, 5-5 senior libero Leah Hornfeck and 5-6 senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Mackenna Malinowski.
"Haley has had to pick up the slack in the middle with Kristen out of the lineup," Ostach said. "I moved her up to the varsity team as a freshman and she lettered as an outside hitter. We moved her to the middle last year and she's done a great job."
Davids and Malinowski split time playing in the back row last year. Davids is the Cougars setter this year, while Malinowski has played both outside hitter and back-row specialist.
"Brittany was also our backup setter last year," Ostach said. "This year, she's running our offense. She's starting to turn into a leader. She will be a force by the end of the season."
Allie Menges and Brianna Camp are returning lettermen. Menges is a 5-9 junior who has played on the outside and in the middle. Camp is a defensive specialist.
Four newcomers have joined the Cougars starting rotation, including Hannah Pringle, a 6-0 junior left-handed opposite.
The other three newcomers are sophomores, 5-9 middle hitter Nikki Beatty, 5-9 outside hitter Tiye Boyd and 5-8 opposite Brooke Tomasko. All three sophomores have made a major contribution.
Blackhawk will face a big test Saturday, as the Cougars will compete in the Midwestern Athletic Conference Big School Tournament, which will take place at South Side Beaver High School.
"It's kind of comical. We have Central Valley and Shenango in our pool and we just had them in our pool on Saturday [at the Blackhawk Tournament]," Ostach said. "Hopewell, Montour, Moon, Mars and Blackhawk are teams to watch in the tournament."