South Xtra: For Mt. Lebanon team, home is where the heart is

HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

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Officially, the Mt. Lebanon High School girls volleyball team are called the Blue Devils, just as all the other sports teams at the school are called, but this squad could easily have another fitting nickname -- "Road Warriors."

"Our high school is going through some major renovations and we don't have a gym to play in," Blue Devils coach Mike Switala said. "We've had to play all of our home matches at Chartiers Valley, mostly at the middle school. With that in mind, we had T-shirts made up that have one word on the back -- 'Homeless.'"

Switala is making his debut as head coach after spending the past seven years as Jeff Schilling's assistant. The Blue Devils captured the WPIAL Class AAA title in Schilling's final season.

"Just finding an adequate place to practice was a challenge when the season started," Switala said. "In the first six days of the preseason, we used four different facilities for practice. We started at the Greentree SportsPlex, moved to our middle school, then to our auxiliary gym at the high school, and then to our main gym at the high school."

Mt. Lebanon is building a new gym, but also plans to remodel the current main gym and eliminate the old auxiliary gym.

"The original plan was to have contractors working on the main gym while building our new gym at the same time," Switala said. "But that plan changed. They are working on the new gym with hopes of having it ready for basketball season, then remodel our old main gym."

With that in mind, Switala and his Blue Devils are practicing in the old main gym, but cannot play matches there because it no longer has running water.

"We are fortunate to have Chartiers Valley as a site for our home matches," Switala said. "Bethel Park was also gracious enough to allow us to use their gym for our season-opening tournament. It's great to have two local school districts that understand what our girls are going through. We certainly appreciate their hospitality."

Despite the obvious disadvantage of playing "on the road" in every match, Mt. Lebanon is once again in contention for a WPIAL title.

The Blue Devils have an 8-2 record in Class AAA Section 5, which places them in second place behind unbeaten Bethel Park (9-0).

"Repeating as WPIAL champions is one of the goals we set," Switala said. "I knew it wouldn't be easy when you consider our lack of home games, and the graduation losses we suffered."

The Blue Devils had to replace five players who graduated, including WPIAL Class AAA most valuable player Caroline Grattan.

"The girls have actually embraced the fact that every match is on the road," Switala said. "And I haven't had one varsity player or parent complain about it."

Mt. Lebanon clinched a berth in the WPIAL playoff field when it defeated Moon Area, 3-0, Tuesday night.

Switala uses a nine-player rotation, which includes three returning starters, 5-foot-10 junior middle hitter Alexa Pavlick, 5-8 junior outside hitter Mary Baich and 5-10 senior middle hitter Megan Riemer. Pavlick and Riemer were both recognized as second-team All-WPIAL Class AAA players last year.

"Alexa is an incredible athlete with natural jumping ability," Switala said. "Mary moved into the starting lineup last year because of an injury."

Also back is Keeley Foor, a 5-6 senior outside hitter who missed all but two matches last season with an injury.

Others in Switala's nine-player rotation are 5-4 junior defensive specialist Melissa Smith, 5-2 senior defensive specialist Victoria Sullivan, 5-2 junior libero Katelyn Wilhelm, 5-5 senior setter Anna Kulzer and 5-8 senior opposite Alyssa Lebowitz.

"Anna lettered last year, but did very little setting," Switala said. "She's working very hard to be the best setter she can be."

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First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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