East Xtra: Obama vetoes Allderdice for volleyball title

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Generally speaking in the sports world, it doesn't matter where you start -- what matters is where you finish.

That is certainly the case with Obama Academy's boys volleyball team.

"We started the season with a squad that had very little varsity experience," coach Pete Vitti said after Obama celebrated its second consecutive City League title. "We had only two returning varsity players back from last year's team."

That was evident during the first half of City League play, as Obama posted a 4-1 record, which included a 3-1 loss to Allderdice, it's biggest rival.

"I knew this team would need time to mature. I just didn't know how long it would take," Vitti said.

When the season reached the midway point, Vitti realized he needed to make a lineup change.

"Coming into the season, we needed a setter," Vitti recalled. "Our most experienced player was Rondell Harris, a four-year letterman who was our libero the past two years."

Vitti moved Harris, a 5-foot-8 senior, to setter.

"Rondell was doing a nice job setting, but I realized that we needed him more in the back row since he was our best passer," Vitti said.

With that in mind, Vitti moved Harris back to libero and promoted freshman Connor Claussen to varsity setter.

"I had Connor in mind for next year, but decided to try him a little earlier than expected," Vitti said. "It was the turning point in the season.

With Claussen running Vitti's offense, the Eagles went unbeaten in the second half and claimed the City League regular season title.

"It's especially tough for a freshman to start at setter," Vitti said. "He had some growing pains, but he's since settled in and doing a fine job. Now he's a standout setter. He also gives us a good blocker on the right side."

Obama claimed its second consecutive City League tournament title May 15 at Brashear High School. The Eagles recorded 2-0 sweeps in all three matches, including victories against Allderdice in the semifinals and finals.

"The nice thing about having a young team is that they improve so quickly," Vitti said. "I'm so proud of them. We played a ton of matches and traveled a lot. They came so far. They look like a different team since the season started. It's been a lot of fun watching them grow."

Obama competed in tournaments at Seneca Valley, Farrell and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The Eagles also had non-section matches against North Hills, Keystone Oaks, OLSH, Saint Joseph and Farrell, and had a 2-3 record.

"It definitely helps to play the schedule we play," Vitti said. "The competition can only make us better."

Obama will face its biggest challenge of the season tonight in the PIAA tournament. The Eagles will face District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle in a play-in match at Peabody. Guilfoyle defeated Northern Cambria in the District 6 final Tuesday.

"It's obvious that we're the underdog, but we're up for the challenge," Vitti said.

Vitti uses a seven-player rotation, in which Harris is one of four seniors. The other three seniors are 6-0 opposite Tobias Raether, 5-9 outside hitter Jordan Pollard and 5-10 outside hitter Daniel Goldstein.

"Tobias really stepped it up in the City tournament," Vitti said. "He led the team with 16 kills."

Pollard had 13 kills in the City tournament.

"Jordan is a real gym rat who loves to play volleyball," Vitti said. "He's improving every time he steps on the court."

The other two starters are 6-4 sophomore middle blocker Ray Casio and 6-2 sophomore middle hitter Rohun Joseph.

"Ray led our team in blocks," Vitti said. "He was really dominant in the final set of the City tournament.

"We were trailing Allderdice, 13-11, when Ray moved into the front row. He recorded five solo blocks during an 11-point rally."

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