West Xtra: As Moon coach rebuilds, he learns a lot about the job

HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

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Sam Woods is getting a crash course on running tournaments in his first season as head volleyball coach at Moon Area High School ... and he's learning on the run.

"This will be my second tournament in three weeks," said Woods, referring to Saturday's Midwestern Athletic Conference Big Schools Tournament, which will take place at Moon. "I attended numerous tournaments while serving as an assistant coach at Montour, but I had never run one until this season."

Moon played host to a nine-team tournament on Sept. 7.

"Moon is the perfect site for a volleyball tournament," Woods said. "Our gym is as big as an airplane hangar. We could have used four nets in that gym, but only needed three. There's plenty of room to hold a big tournament."

With that in mind, Woods plans to increase the size of next year's Moon tournament.

"I would like to expand the tournament," Woods said. "We have enough room to have at least 16 teams. It would be great to have a tournament of that size."

Moon is one of 12 teams entered in Saturday's MAC Big Schools Tournament. The others are Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, Mars, Montour, Quaker Valley, Shenango, South Side Beaver and West Allegheny. Pool play begins at 8:30 a.m.

"I'm glad the MAC athletic directors decided to hold two separate tournaments," said Woods, referring to the fact that the Midwestern Athletic Conference used to have one big tournament that included all 25 teams. That changed a couple years ago when the teams were split into two more competitive brackets.

The MAC Small Schools Tournament, also Saturday, will take place at Mohawk. Also in the 13-team field are Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Cornell, Ellwood City, Freedom, Laurel, Lincoln Park, Neshannock, New Castle, Rochester, Union and Western Beaver.

"The current format is much better than what we used to have," Woods said. "It's much more competitive for teams in both tournaments. It was unfair to have small Class A teams facing Class AAA teams such as Moon, Montour and West Allegheny."

Woods is finding that he's much better prepared for Saturday's tournament.

"Preparation is the most important thing when holding a tournament," Woods said. "At the Moon tournament, I found a few things that I didn't do that I should have. The key is to have a checklist and get everything done early."

Woods made his head coaching debut as Moon's boys coach in the spring.

"I had already applied for the boys position when I heard the girls position had also opened up," Woods said. "I promptly informed [Moon Athletic Director] Ricci Rich that I was interested in both positions."

Woods, a 2000 graduate of Montour, served as a girls assistant at Montour for nine years, and with the Spartans boys program for eight.

"Ricci Rich and the Moon administration have been so supportive," Woods said. "That makes my job easier."

Woods took over a program that posted a 1-11 record last season. And after two weeks of section competition, it's obvious that the Tigers are in a rebuilding mode. Following Moon's 3-0 loss to powerhouse Bethel Park Tuesday in a Class AAA Section 5 match, the Tigers have an 0-4 section record.

"I realize it's going to take some time to rebuild the program," Woods said. "But I'm always up for a challenge."

Woods is using a 10-player rotation, which includes four returning starters, 5-foot-8 senior outside hitter Rachel Stack, 5-6 senior setter Jess DeLuca, 5-7 senior libero Lexie Ulven and 5-9 sophormore outside hitter Madison Taylor.

"Rachel is a smart player," Woods said. "The younger girls lean on her for leadership."

DeLuca is sharing the setting duties with Allison Ulven, a 5-9 sophomore who is Lexie's younger sister. "Allison also plays on the right side when she rotates to the front row."

Woods has three newcomers splitting time at the two middle hitting positions 5-8 junior Pam Rutherford, 5-9 junior Kasey Kennedy and 5-10 junior Kennedy Moon. Also seeing significant playing time are 5-7 junior opposite Leah Walker and 5-4 sophomore defensive specialist Emily Padgett.

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