South Xtra: Bethel Park's stock makes early spike

HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

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Bethel Park boys volleyball coach Tom Allman entered the 2013 season with expectations of a four-team battle for the Class AAA Section 1 title.

"It should come down to a battle among Upper St. Clair, Peters Township, Baldwin and Bethel Park for the title," said Allman, now in his 22nd year. "All four teams are capable of taking the title and I don't see a clear-cut favorite."

Now -- just two weeks into the season -- Bethel Park is the only remaining unbeaten team in the section. The Black Hawks have defeated two of the three teams that figure to be standing between them and the section title.

Bethel Park has a 4-0 section record after Tuesday's 3-0 sweep against winless Moon Area. Peters Township is in second place at 3-1 after defeating Upper St. Clair (2-2) Tuesday. Baldwin, is in third place at 2-1.

"We didn't play well in our match against Peters Township," said Allman, referring to a 3-1 victory against the Indians. "We played lackadaisical, but were able to win. We played much better against Upper St. Clair and were able to beat them in three sets."

Bethel Park plays host to Canon-McMillan (2-2) tonight, then plays at Baldwin Tuesday, concluding the first half of section play.

"We may be off to a good start in the section, but we can't rest on our laurels," Allman warned. "We've had seasons where we went 5-0 in the first half, then not as well in the second half.

"It's so hard to play at a high level the entire regular season. Intensity and focus are the key. We have to show intensity in every match and can't relax."

Allman has four starters returning from last year's squad, which tied with Upper St. Clair for the section title. The Black Hawks top returnee is Grant Underwood, a 6-foot-4 senior opposite who was voted first-team All-WPIAL Class AAA. He was also voted to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State Team.

"Grant is one of the top five or six players in the WPIAL," Allman said. "He's clearly the [WPIAL's] No. 1 right-side hitter."

Underwood recently took a weekend to travel south to look at colleges. He visited Clemson, Alabama and Virginia Tech, three schools that do not have varsity programs.

"Grant is a very smart kid who is concerned more about academics," Allman said. "But I'm sure he will play club ball at the school he chooses."

The other returning starters are 6-3 senior middle hitter Bobby Huntington, 5-8 senior libero Luke Hudson and 5-11 junior defensive specialist Danny Burke.

"Bobby and Danny are three-year starters," Allman said. "In fact, Danny will be our first four-year starter in a while. I don't often have four-year starters. Luke is my sparkplug in the back row."

Three other returnees who were lettermen last year, are 5-10 senior defensive specialist Alex Kiselica, 6-0 senior setter Vance Blanc and 5-11 senior outside hitter Aaron Glasser.

"Our biggest concern coming into the season was replacing setter Ryan Dunay," Allman said. "Vance was our backup setter last year. This year, he is running our 5-1 offense. It's a big responsibility, but he's doing a fine job."

Newcomers who have stepped into the starting rotation are 5-6 senior utility player Ryan Petrossi, 6-5 junior middle hitter Brandon Hanson, 5-10 freshman setter Brandon Thorson, 6-3 freshman outside hitter Jake Dixon and 6-0 sophomore utility player Noah Blanc.

"Brandon Hanson came out last year for the first time," Allman said. "He's really developed since then. Brandon and Bobby give us two solid middle hitters. Brandon Thorson is the last of three brothers who played for me."

Bethel Park opened the season at the Norwin tournament.

"We had a 9-0 record until we lost to Derry in the semifinals," Allman said.

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