The 2012 girls volleyball season is one that Oakland Catholic fans will never forget.
The Eagles qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in school history, then claimed the school's first section title. Coach Karisa Haslett's squad also advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals. They placed fourth after losses to eventual champion Mt. Lebanon in the semifinals and North Allegheny in the consolation final.
Nine members of that squad have graduated, including five key starters.
"We lost a very talented group of girls to graduation," said Haslett, now in her seventh season at the helm. "But I knew we had a talented group behind them who have been waiting for their chance."
Despite the graduation losses, Oakland Catholic has reloaded with another squad that is vying for the Class AAA Section 4 title. After defeating Woodland Hills, 3-0, Tuesday, the Eagles have a 7-1 record in the section. Their only loss was to section front-runner Shaler Area (8-0).
"A lot of people were counting us out," Haslett said. "Our JV team went undefeated last year, so I knew we had talent. It was just a question of getting the girls varsity experience."
If Oakland Catholic can continue its winning ways in the second half of section play, the Oct. 17 finale against Shaler will be for the section title.
"We finally have a banner in our gym that recognizes our section title," Haslett said. "We want to add a second banner this year, but to make that happen we have to go undefeated in the second half."
Oakland Catholic's squad includes one returning starter and two others who played significant roles as subs last season.
The lone returning starter is Jessie Durso, a 5-6 senior outside hitter and four-year letterman. Durso played libero last year and was recognized on the All-Section 4 team.
The other two returnees with significant varsity experience are 5-2 senior setter Anna Gulli and 5-10 junior middle hitter Meredith Walker.
"Anna was our backup setter last year," Haslett said. "We occasionally switched to a 6-2 and Anna was our second setter.
"Meredith was a backup on the right side last year. We moved her to the middle this year and she's done a fine job."
Gulli is one of four setters that Haslett is using. The other three are 5-5 senior Stephanie Kambic, 5-5 junior Taylor Scahill and 5-8 sophomore Caysie Moody. Kambic lettered last season. Scahill is the daughter of former Baldwin coach Lynda Scahill.
"Setting is not our strongest suit this year, so our setting combinations are changing on a weekly basis," Haslett said. "I go with the setter who is connecting the best with our middles and outsides. I've never had a situation like this before, but it's working."
Newcomers to the starting rotation are 5-8 junior libero Meghan Massei, 6-0 freshman outside hitter Caroline Bain, 5-4 junior defensive specialist Molly Simon, 5-7 junior opposite Aki Nace, 5-9 junior middle Bri Cox and 5-11 junior middle Melissa McCloskey.
"Durso and Walker are two strong go-to hitters, and Bain is progressing well as a freshman," Haslett said. "Nace has been our most consistent hitter.
"A big part of our success is the defense we've been playing," Haslett said. "Our junior libero [Massei] has been phenomenal."