Bishop Canevin girls volleyball coach Kevin Walters scheduled five tough non-section matches to beef up the Crusaders schedule.
"Facing stiff competition is the best way to prepare your team for the WPIAL playoffs," said Walters, now in his sixth year as the Crusaders head coach. "And I prefer [competitive non-section] matches to tournament competition."
Bishop Canevin, a Class A program, scheduled two matches against Class AAA opponents -- Montour and Gateway -- and defeated both. The Crusaders also defeated two Class AA opponents who qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, Knoch, 3-1, and South Fayette, 3-0.
Ironically, Bishop Canevin's only loss of the season came in a non-section match against a Class A opponent, as the Crusaders came up short in a five-set marathon with Avonworth. The Antelopes placed second in the WPIAL last year, while the Crusaders finished fourth.
"[Avonworth] was a great match that could have gone either way," said Walters. "It was our fifth match in seven days. Looking back, that wasn't the smartest thing to do. I'll try to avoid scheduling that many matches in one week in the future."
Add 14 victories and a Section 6-A title and Bishop Canevin enters the WPIAL playoffs with an 18-1 overall record. The Crusaders are seeded No. 3 in the 20-team Class A bracket, which marks the third consecutive year they are among the top three seeds.
In 2010, Bishop Canevin placed second in the WPIAL after being seeded No. 2. Last season, the Crusaders were seeded No. 3 and finished fourth.
"It's nice to be seeded or ranked this high, but it doesn't mean anything," said Walters, who has led the Crusaders to six consecutive playoff appearances. "What matters is how well the team performs on the court."
Walters will find out how well his squad performs in tonight's first round, as the Crusaders play host to South Side Beaver at 7:30 p.m. South Side Beaver advanced to the first round with a 3-2 win against Laurel in Tuesday's preliminary round.
"Most of the girls on this team know what it takes to be successful in the playoffs," said Walters, referring to the fact that eight of his top 10 players are returning letter-winners.
"They also realize that on any given night ..."
To nobody's surprise, Greensburg Central Catholic is the No. 1 seed, as the Centurions have been ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL all season. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is No. 2. West Shamokin, a runner up to Greensburg CC in Section 1-A, is seeded No. 4.
"Greensburg Central has to be considered the favorite, but there's a lot of good teams in Class A this year," Walters said. "I feel every team in the top 10 has a legitimate chance of advancing to the semifinals. It's going to be an interesting ride for all in the playoffs."
Walters feels leadership will play a big part in the playoffs.
"A lot of it comes from your seniors, and we have six who have provided a great deal of leadership this season," Walters said. "All six were on last year's squad, which came within one victory of a second straight PIAA berth."
Bishop Canevin's leader is four-year starter Katie Oliverio, a 5-foot-4 senior setter, who was voted first-team All-WPIAL Class A last season, and second team as a sophomore. She was also recognized on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State Team last season.
"Katie sets in the back row and hits in the front row," Walters said. "She's been doing that for four years. Her court awareness is amazing. She's one of the best players I've had in 15 years of coaching. She's looking at Juniata and a few other colleges."
The other five seniors in Bishop Canevin's 10-player starting rotation are 5-7 middle hitter Jody Mackin, 5-8 opposite Maddie Zappi, 5-8 outside hitter Rachel Betzner, 5-5 defensive speciallst Abbey Trusky and 5-5 setter Courtney Suhay.
Mackin, a three-year letterwinner and two-year starter, was voted first-team All-Section 6-A last season. Zappi and Betzner were voted second-team all-section.
Suhay was the Crusaders second setter last season and part of this season, but was beat out by 5-7 freshman Bailey McDonald.
"Bailey is left-handed and hits for us on the right side when she rotates to the front row," Walters said. "It's good to have so much depth at the setter position."
Also in Bishop Canevin's starting rotation are 5-8 junior outside hitter Ashley Grimm, 5-8 junior middle hitter Callie Jacobs and 5-9 freshman outside hitter Erin Cunningham, who has replaced Betzner in the starting lineup.
"The nice thing about this team is that all of our hitters are hitting at the same percentage," Walters said. "We don't have one player that I would call our go-to hitter. We just go with who has the hot hand when we need a point."