Serra Catholic coach Chad Farrington received some news during the summer that completely changed his approach to the 2012 girls volleyball season ... but it didn't curb his enthusiasm.
"In July, Katie Pricener tore an ACL," said Farrington, referring to a 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter who was voted third team All-WPIAL Class A in 2011. "She will be out of action until March or April, so there's no chance that she will be back."
Losing a player of her caliber was a big blow to the Eagles.
"Katie is one of the top 10 players, possibly the top five, in WPIAL Class A," Farrington said. "Losing her was a big blow to the program, but I was still optimistic about our chances of returning to the WPIAL playoffs."
Farrington started Serra's program in 2005 and coached the Eagles four years. A job change forced him to step down after the 2008 season. After two years on the sideline, Farrington returned and led the Eagles to a WPIAL playoff berth.
"My work schedule changed, which allowed me to come back," said Farrington, a graduate of South Park High School and Robert Morris College. "Once you get volleyball in your blood, it's tough to stay away. It was great to be back."
Serra tied with North Catholic for the Section 2-A title last year. The Eagles were seeded seventh in the WPIAL Class A bracket, but lost to Riverview, 3-1, in the first round.
"That was the first section title in school history," Farrington said. "It was a big step for the program. This year, we want to take it a step further and win the title outright."
The Eagles are closing in on reaching that goal. After defeating Sto-Rox, 3-0, Tuesday Serra has a 10-0 record in Section 1-A. The Eagles have two matches remaining, at Vincentian tonight and home against winless Wilkinsburg next Thursday.
The victory against Sto-Rox clinched at least a tie for the section title. A win against Vincentian will win the title outright, as the Royals have a 7-2 record.
"The Vincentian match is a big one because we can clinch the section title outright," Farrington said. "We've swept every section match, except for our last match against Brentwood. They took us to four games."
Seton-LaSalle's move up to Class AA weakened the field of teams in Section 2. With that in mind, Farrington added three strong Class A opponents to Serra's schedule.
"I knew our section was weak, so I beefed up our non-section schedule," Farrington said. "We lost in five games to Shenango, beat Geibel in four games and lost to Riverview in three games. All three have been ranked at one point this season."
Serra is No. 10 in the WPIAL Class A rankings. Riverview is No. 6 and Shenango is No. 8. Geibel was ranked earlier in the season, but has since dropped out.
"The program has been to the WPIAL playoffs twice, but we were beaten in the first round both times," Farrington said. "Winning in the first round was one of our goals. The girls have since amended that goal. The goal now is to make it to the semifinals."
Farrington uses a 10-player rotation which includes five returning letter-winners: 5-10 senior outside hitter Lindsay Muschar, 5-1 senior setter Gina Rosso, 5-5 sophomore setter/outside hitter Erin Thomas, 5-6 senior outside hitter Anita Onufer and 5-11 senior middle/outside hitter Marlena Darr.
"It took me a month or so to find the best starting lineup," Farrington said. "I tried several different combinations.
"Lindsay started out the season in the middle, but we moved her to the outside. Marlena started on the outside and moved to the middle. The change has worked for both."
Farrington is using a 6-2 offense with Rosso and Thomas sharing the setting duties.
"Erin hits in the front row and sets in the back row," Farrington said. "Gina sets in the back row, then Lindsay subs for her in the front row.
"Both are in their first full season of setting, and both are doing a fine job."
Newcomers to the lineup are 5-4 senior libero Hanna Shega, 5-5 junior opposite Christina Pici, 5-3 junior defensive specialist Melanie Mills, 5-6 junior middle hitter Anna Quattrone and 5-6 junior utility hitter Michelle Alfer.
Serra Catholic has entered two tournaments, with different results. The Eagles placed second in the Chartiers-Houston Tournament the first weekend of the season. They didn't fare as well at the Baldwin Tournament, losing in the first round to Kiski Area.
"We're looking forward to the OLSH Playoff Preview Tournament," referring to a tournament sponsored by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on Oct. 20. "We're expecting to see some of the top Class A teams in the WPIAL at this tournament."