Riverview High School's girls volleyball program took a big step last year and is hoping to take the next step this season.
"We made it to the WPIAL quarterfinals last year," said DeAnn Sloan, now in her third season as the Raiders head coach. "That's the furthest any Riverview volleyball team has gone in the playoffs. There have been [Riverview] teams in the past that won section titles, but none advanced to the quarterfinals."
With that accomplishment in the rear-view mirror, Sloan would like to see the Raiders take the next step this season.
"Our ultimate goal is to play in the WPIAL title match and bring home the program's first WPIAL title," Sloan said. "But to reach that goal will be no easy task."
Riverview entered the week ranked No. 5 in the WPIAL Class A coaches poll. Greensburg Central Catholic has been No. 1 since the start of the season. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is No. 2, Avonworth is No. 3, and Bishop Canevin is No. 4.
"Greensburg Central has one of the best coaches in the WPIAL," said Sloan, referring to Centurions coach Heather Meyer. "I'm especially impressed with what she was able to do last year. She lost her best player to an injury and used three freshmen in the starting lineup, yet was still able to make the playoffs."
The first half of play in Section 1-A concluded Tuesday. Greensburg Central finished the first go-round with a 6-0 record, defeating Trinity Christian, 3-0, Tuesday. Riverview is 4-1 after topping Springdale, 3-0. The Raiders had a match against Leechburg postponed until Oct. 3.
"Our first match against Greensburg Central went to four sets," Sloan said. "The first three were very close. They are a much bigger team than we are, and one of our weaknesses has been inconsistent blocking. We have to block much better and minimize our mistakes in the rematch."
Sloan feels Section 1 is the strongest of the Class A sections.
"From top to bottom, Section 1 has to be considered the strongest," Sloan said. "West Shamokin and Leechburg also have strong programs."
Four of the top seven players from last year's team make up the nucleus of this year's squad. The top returnee is Arden Fisher, a 5-foot senior outside hitter who has been recognized twice as a WPIAL all-star. She was voted to the third team in Class AAA in 2010 while attending Oakland Catholic. She transferred to Riverview last season as was voted to the first team.
"Arden comes from a volleyball family," said Sloan of Fisher, who has verbally committed to Robert Morris University. "She has been peppering with her siblings and parents since she was old enough to hold a volleyball.
"I feel Arden is the top player in the WPIAL in Class A. There are players who can hit harder, but none who can make a great play in a less-than-perfect situation. That's what sets her apart from the others."
The other three returning starters are 5-10 senior outside hitter Reneè Ault, 5-11 senior middle hitter Marissa Katic and 5-4 junior libero Rachael Suchevich.
"Reneé is an incredible athlete who has been starting varsity since she was a freshman, so she brings experience to the court. Renee played most of her career in the middle, but this year we have her playing on the outside.
Alison Hodges, a 5-8 senior left-hander, has taken over the setting duties.
"Alison did some setting and played some on the right side for the JV team last year," Sloan said. "She's matured a lot since last season. She's feeling more and more comfortable with each match."
Other newcomers to the Raiders rotation are 5-9 freshman right-side hitter Candice Ashbaugh, 5-5 freshman defensive specialist Nikki Polens, 5-10 junior middle hitter Nikki Anderson, 5-8 sophomore outside hitter Taylor Killmeyer and 5-4 sophomore serving sepcialist Hannah Larkin.