Experience is the theme for the 2013 version of the Montour High School boys volleyball team.
Spartans coach Brendon Aleski entered his 12th year with a squad that featured nine players who started or lettered last year.
"This team certainly has a lot of experience," said Aleski, a Montour alumnus. "Everybody in our starting rotation has varsity experience."
The Spartans starting lineup even includes two players who were voted to the WPIAL Class AA All-Star Team last year -- Josh Sullivan and Zach Hartman.
Sullivan is a 6-foot-5 senior outside hitter who was voted first-team All-WPIAL.
"Josh became a starter in his sophomore year when we had a couple players out with injuries," Aleski said. "He's been in our starting lineup ever since. He's one of the top five outside hitters in WPIAL Class AA."
Hartman is a 6-0 senior setter who was a second-team All-WPIAL selection.
"This is Zach's second year as the setter in our 5-1 offense," Aleski said. "It's always nice to have your setter returning because he has a familiarity with the hitters."
Sullivan and Hartman were also first team All-Section 1 selections. Matt Cain and Zach Renninger were voted to the second team.
Cain is a 6-9 junior middle hitter.
"Matt is the tallest player I've ever coached," Aleski said. "He was 6-4 when he was in seventh grade. Last year, he was a big body who blocked well. This year, he's more of an offensive weapon. He's worked very hard to improve his offensive skills."
Renninger is a 6-2 junior right-side hitter.
"We moved Zach to the right side this year," Aleski said. "He's the first real weapon we've had on the right side since 2008. He's also a strong blocker."
The Spartans other middle hitter is Tyler Herman, a 6-3 junior.
"Tyler really came on at the end of last season," Aleski said. "He's not as physical as Cain, but he's quicker."
The Spartans lineup also includes three experienced defensive specialists, 5-10 senior Nolan Lasota, 5-7 senior Jake Schaeffner and 5-7 junior Mike Hensler.
"Nolan subs in when Zach [Renninger] rotates to the back row," Aleski said. "Jake and Mike have switched off at libero."
The last of Aleski's returning lettermen is Shane McCarthy, a 6-1 junior outside hitter.
"Shane grew 4 inches in the offseason," Aleski said. "His fine play on the left side allowed us to move [Renninger] to the right side."
Montour finished the first half of its Section 1 schedule in third place with a 2-2 record. The Spartans, ranked No. 5 in the WPIAL, lost to top-ranked Ambridge Area and No. 4 Beaver County Christian.
"Ambridge is clearly the best team in the WPIAL," Aleski said. "Beaver County Christian is a good team that was very motivated for the match. We didn't match their intensity. Hopefully, we learned a lesson in that match. We have to have more focus when we face them in the second half."
All Class AA teams have a week off from section competition this week. The Spartans defeated Thomas Jefferson, 3-0, on Tuesday and play at Seton-LaSalle tonight.
The Spartans are also entered in Saturday's 20-team Koller Classic at Central York High School.
"It's definitely one of the top two or three tournaments in the state, if not the best," Aleski said. "Most of the top teams in both classes will be there."
Montour begins the second half of its section schedule next week. The top four teams in each section qualify for the WPIAL, which virtually assures the Spartans a playoff berth because Section 1 has only five teams. The section was supposed to have six teams, but Bishop Canevin dropped its program.
"If we don't make it to the playoffs, we're in serious trouble," Aleski said. "We need one victory in the second half to qualify for the 30th consecutive year."hsother