Emily Tupi enters her seventh season as girls volleyball coach at Carlynton High School with hopes of taking the Cougars into uncharted territory.
"I don't think Carlynton has ever qualified for the WPIAL playoffs," Tupi said. "We came close in 2010, but fell short of qualifying. We're hoping this year will be the year we take that next step."
Carlynton opened its season with a first-place finish at the eight-team Chartiers-Houston tournament on Aug. 31.
"We've never been in a tournament that early in the season," Tupi said. "Winning that tournament was a real big deal for us. We beat Serra Catholic, 2-1, in the championship match. Serra went undefeated in section play last year."
Carlynton's success continued in the the first week of play in Class A Section 6, as the Cougars posted a pair of 3-0 sweeps against Burgettstown and Chartiers-Houston. The Cougars improved their record to 3-0 with Tuesday's 3-0 win against Avella.
"The girls have never had other teams looking at them and thinking we are a serious playoff contender," said Tupi, a fourth-grade teacher at Carnegie Elementary. "It's nice to have that kind of recognition."
Tupi actually feels the Cougars can compete for not only a playoff berth, but the section title.
"Bishop Canevin and Bentworth have dominated the section over the past several years," Tupi said. "Our goal is to challenge them for first place."
That will not be easy, as Bishop Canevin was last year's WPIAL runner-up. The Crusaders are currently ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL.
"I graduated from Bishop Canevin in 2000," Tupi said. "It would be a big deal for the girls to beat my alma mater. And it's great that the Canevin match is our final match of the first half."
Carlynton plays host to Bentworth next Wednesday, then travels to Bishop Canevin on Sept. 24.
"We are looking forward to both matches, but we can't afford to get caught looking ahead," said Tupi, who is concentrating on tonight's match against visiting Beth-Center.
Tupi has five starters back from last year's squad, which posted a 5-9 record in the section.
"We had eight or nine seniors on last year's squad, but that group didn't work well together," Tupi said. "This year's varsity squad works very well together. And more importantly, they really want to win."
Two of the returning starters are seniors who have started since their sophomore year: 5-foot-1 libero Kylie Waugh and 5-3 outside hitter Kelly Jones.
"Kylie is my size," said Tupi, who is just under 5-2. "She is awesome in the back-row. Kelly is short, but an extremely strong hitter. Both have started since their sophomore year."
The other three returning starters are 5-0 senior middle hitter Emily Burch, 5-8 senior opposite Hannah Murray and 4-11 junior setter Emily Brozenick.
"We moved Hannah to the right side and she's done very well," Tupi said. "A lot of teams don't utilize their right-side hitter. We're trying to make her a bigger part of the offense.
"Emily [Brozenick] rotated in during her freshman year, then took over running our offense last year. Emily and Kelly are cousins, so they have a good chemistry working together."
Carlynton's other two starters are 5-9 junior outside hitter Jordan Melko and 5-10 junior middle hitter Conor Richardson.
"Jordan didn't play much varsity last season, but did letter," Tupi said. "Conor played in eighth grade, then missed last season with a with a couple injuries."
Others who have seen significant playing time are 5-7 junior outside hitter Jessica Olkosky and 5-3 junior opposite Lexus Wood. Olkosky has been used as a designated server.hsother