The Greater Latrobe High School boys volleyball team faced some "trials and tribulations" during the first half of play in Class AAA Section 3, but has rebounded nicely in the second half.
"Even with all of our trials and tribulations, we've won five straight matches and are peaking at the right time," said Wildcats coach Drew Vosefski, now in his 14th season.
Latrobe opened the season without Adam Kniffen, a 6-foot-4 senior setter who was voted second-team All-WPIAL Class AAA last year.
"Adam was disciplined by the district and not allowed to play for 30 days," Vosefski said. "Our senior night against Hempfield is the first day he can play."
With Kniffen out of the lineup, Robert Gunther, a 5-11 junior, stepped in and took over the setting duties.
"There was a lot of pressure on Robert when the season began, but he handled it quite well," Vosefski said. "He's doing quite a good job for a first-year starter."
Latrobe won its first two matches with Gunther running the offense, but suffered more "trials and tribulations" in its third section match against Plum.
"Joe Wojciechowski suffered a severely sprained ankle in the second set against Plum," said Vosefski, referring to a 6-3 senior middle/outside hitter who was voted third-team All-WPIAL last year. "Even without Joe, we took Plum to five sets, but came up short."
The loss to Plum was followed by losses to Penn-Trafford and Norwin, as the Wildcats dropped to 2-3 in the section.
"We also lost Alex Rutigliano for a match during that stretch," said Vosefski, referring to a 5-10 senior libero. "Alex is a three-year starter and second-year starter at libero."
Wojciechowski, also a three-year starter, moved from middle to outside hitter after the loss to Norwin.
"Joe is a Saint Francis University recruit," Vosefski said. "He's one of the best hitters in the WPIAL. His move to the outside has added an air of confidence to the team."
Wojciechowski, Rutigliano and Kniffen are among seven seniors on Latrobe's roster. The other four are 6-3 opposite Blake Reeping, 6-1 outside hitter Chuck Owens, 6-3 middle hitter Matt Dunlap and 6-1 outside hitter Larry Kunkel.
"Blake is a three-year starter, who was an all-section middle the last two years," Vosefski said. "He's a lefty, so moving to the right side is a natural spot for him. The move has paid dividends."
Kevin Gibson, a 6-1 junior outside hitter, and Garrett Kollar, a 6-6 junior middle hitter, are also returning starters.
Vosefski uses an eight-player rotation that also includes 6-6 junior middle hitter Nathan Karota and 6-0 sophomore defensive specialist Vince Bonar.
Latrobe has won four consecutive section matches since its 2-3 start, which has earned the Wildcats a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, scheduled to begin on May 14.
"We also beat Derry, the No. 2-ranked team in Class AA, in a [non-section] match," Vosefski said. "So we're on a five-match win streak."
Latrobe, which is tied with Plum for third place, had a bye in section play on Tuesday.
The Wildcats play host to Section 3 front-runner Penn-Trafford (9-1) tonight, then travel to Norwin (8-1) next Tuesday. Penn-Trafford is ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL, Norwin is No. 5 and Latrobe is No. 8.
"Those are two big matches for us," Vosefski said. "We could move up in the rankings with wins in those matches."
Vosefski feels the "trials and tribulations" Latrobe has faced this season has solidified the team.
"It's made us stronger," Vosefski said. "We count on each other more."