East Xtra: Hempfield rises as a title threat

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The Hempfield Area High School girls volleyball team has done something this season that no other WPIAL team can claim.

The Spartans have participated in tournaments the first three weekends of the season and advanced to the title match in all three tournaments.

"It's quite an accomplishment to make it to the finals in all three tournaments," Hempfield coach Lyndsay Turchetta said. "But its a little bittersweet after losing to Bethel Park."

Turchetta was referring to the title match at Saturday's Upper St. Clair tournament. The Spartans were facing Bethel Park, a squad they defeated a week earlier in the title match of the Shaler tournament.

"It's disappointing to get that far and lose by a few points in the title game," said Turchetta referring to Bethel Park's 25-21 victory against the Spartans in Saturday's finale. "But I would rather have it happen now than in the playoffs."

Hempfield opened its season with a title at the Canon-McMillan tournament on Labor Day weekend. The Spartans added another championship trophy a week later at the Shaler tournament, with a narrow win against Bethel Park in the title game as the clincher.

"This is no surprise," said Turchetta, when asked if the Spartans success is unexpected. "I've been coaching five or six of my girls since they were in seventh grade. It's a great group of girls who are very talented athletes.

"We have the talent required to win the school's first WPIAL title, but at times we are our worst enemy."

A good example of that was Hempfield's opening section match against visiting Penn-Trafford on Sept. 3.

"We came down on the net 15 times in the first set alone," said Turchetta, referring to the Spartan's five-set loss to the Warriors. "Maybe the girls had first-game jitters, but we should have won that match."

In fact, Turchetta believes Hempfield has a much better squad than Penn-Trafford, despite the loss.

"We are head over heels above Penn-Trafford," Turchetta said. "We just had a bad match. I would be very surprised if we lose to them in the second half."

Turchetta and the Spartans will not have to wait long for the rematch, as Penn-Trafford plays host to Hempfield next Thursday.

Penn-Trafford entered the week No. 4 in the WPIAL Class AAA rankings, two spots in front of the No. 6-ranked Spartans. After defeating Laurel Highlands, 3-0, Tuesday Hempfield has a 3-1 section record. Penn-Trafford stayed on top of the section standings at 5-0 after blanking Greater Latrobe, 3-0, Tuesday.

Turchetta's 10-player rotation includes a pair of All-Section 1 players. Maddie Holmberg, a 5-foot-11 junior outside hitter, was voted to the first team. Morgan DeFloria, a 6-0 junior outside hitter, was a second-team selection.

"Maddie is better known in the track and field realm," Turchetta said. "She's one of the top track performers in the state and is considering a scholarship offer from Penn State. She's a very good volleyball player, but her future is in track and field."

Holmberg, a two-year starter, leads the team with 128 kills, 43 solo blocks and 35 assists. She also has 20 serving aces and 56 digs. DeFloria, a three-year starter, leads the team with 98 digs and is second with 95 kills.

"Morgan is our most under-utilized hitter," Turchetta said. "She wants to play volleyball in college and is considering offers from Bucknell, Kent State and Akron."

Holmberg and DeFloria are among six returning starters. The other four are 6-0 senior middle hitter Jess Beal, 5-9 junior setter Lexi Irwin, 5-9 junior opposite Leah Knizner and 5-7 senior back-row specialist Juliana Lozaw.

"With Maddie, Morgan and Jess, we have three very strong hitters," Turchetta said. "And Lexi has done a great job setting them."

Beal has recorded 67 kills, 28 solo blocks, 43 assisted blocks and leads the Spartans with 33 serving aces. Irwin has 306 assists and 44 digs. Knizner has 38 aces and 70 digs.

Devin Linsenbigler, a 5-4 senior, has taken over as libero after missing last season with a torn rotator cuff.

Also in the starting rotation are 6-1 senior middle hitter Brooklynn Matthews, 5-9 freshman middle hitter Gabrielle Holmberg and 5-4 senior defensive specialist Megan Dellera.

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