South Xtra: Playoff-bound Rebels still harbor section title hope

HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

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It's six for six for coach Mark Felbinger and the Seton-LaSalle boys volleyball team.

"I took over in 2008, the third year of the program," Felbinger said. "The team did not have a winning record the first two years. Since then we've qualified for the playoffs all six years, and finished either first or second in the section every year. We're very proud of that."

After defeating Trinity, 3-2, Tuesday, Seton-LaSalle has a 6-2 record in Class AA Section 3, which is good enough for second place and another WPIAL playoff berth. The only team ahead of the Rebels is Keystone Oaks. The Golden Eagles are 7-1, but were shocked by last-place Steel Valley, 3-0, Tuesday.

"The race for the section title is closer than it looks," Felbinger said. "If we can win our last three matches and get a little help from Thomas Jefferson, we could win the section title outright."

The Rebels travel to South Park (4-4) tonight, then conclude their section schedule with next Tuesday's match against visiting Keystone Oaks, their cross-roud rivals.

"We need Thomas Jefferson to beat Keystone Oaks [tonight] ," Felbinger said. "Then it would come down to us and Keystone Oaks in the section finale."

Keystone Oaks and Seton-LaSalle have already qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, as the top four teams in each section qualify, but neither is highly regarded in the WPIAL rankings. Keystone Oaks is No. 8, Seton-LaSalle is No. 9, and Thomas Jefferson rounds out the top 10.

"This is our fifth year in this section and we are clearly the weakest of the three Class AA sections," Felbinger said. "I would be surprised to see any team in this section make a long run in the playoffs."

Seton-LaSalle got off to a slow start in section play. The Rebels opened with a 3-1 loss to visiting Thomas Jefferson, then rebounded with three wins, before losing to Keystone Oaks in three sets.

"The slow start didn't surprise me because we only had two starters back," said Felbinger, referring to Eric Marasco and Elijah Barrett. "They are our only seniors."

Marasco is a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, while Barrett is a 5-10 libero. Both were voted second-team All-Section 3-AA last year.

"Eric is short, but jumps well for his size," Felbinger said. "He was our most dominant player in the first half of section play. He played a big part in our early success. He has a lot of control with his hits.

"Elijah was an outside hitter last year and started the season there this year, but three weeks ago we switched him to libero. Seniors are usually not keen on lineup changes, but Elijah has embraced the position. He's been able to cover a lot of ground in the backcourt."

The only other Rebel who had varsity experience is Dan Leehan, a 5-11 junior setter.

"Dan had more than ample playing time last year as our back-up setter," Felbinger said. "He also set our current sophomores on the JV team, so he adjusted to the step up to varsity relatively easily."

Felbinger uses an eight-player rotation, which also includes five sophomores, 6-0 middle hitter Ben Grefenstette, 6-2 middle hitter Nick Pazuchanics, 5-9 outside hitter Chad Murphy, 5-11 opposite Justin Girouard and 5-10 opposite John Kist.

"Chad is a first-year player who started the season on the JV team," Felbinger said. "He developed so well that we inserted him on the outside when Elijah moved to libero.

"Ben and Nick saw some varsity time last year, but did not letter. Both have done well in the middle."

Seton-LaSalle closes out the regular season at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Tournament on May 11.

"It's been a couple years since we attended the OLSH Tournament," Felbinger said. "I try to shy away from tournaments that late in the season, because I want the kids to have a chance to rest before the playoffs, but this team is young and needs more competition."

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