Jonathan Jones has faced an uphill battle since taking over as Hopewell's boys volleyball coach last season, but the Vikings alumnus is up for the challenge.
"I knew what I was in for," said Jones, a 2002 Hopewell graduate. "It was like starting a program from scratch. It was not been easy, but I'm seeing progress. We just have to keep making progress."
Jones had the challenging task of rebuilding a program that had all but one player graduate, while competing in the strongest section in WPIAL Class AA.
"We only had one senior last year and he was our only player who had prior volleyball experience," Jones said. "We lost every match and every set. It was tough for the kids and the coaching staff, but we got through it."
Jones begins his second season with most of the players who were on last year's squad.
"We have 14 kids this year, including two freshmen, two first-year seniors, and a player who is currently ineligible," Jones said. "Preparing for the season was much easier, because we didn't have to regress. The kids have a better knowledge of the game and are getting better as they get more reps. That makes my job a lot easier."
To get his players more repetitions, Jones has had his squad play in varsity and junior varsity matches.
"They play a best-of-three in JV and a best-of-five in varsity," Jones said. "It's tough on the kids, but there is a 20-minute break in between the two matches.
"Playing in both matches gives the kids more reps, but it can be especially tough when you lose in the JV match. It's a little tough getting up for the varsity match."
Hopewell has had only one match so far, since its section has only five teams. The Vikings opened with a match against Seton-LaSalle.
"We already achieved one of our goals," Jones said. "We won a set in the JV match against Seton-LaSalle [losing, 2-1]. Our varsity then lost, 3-0."
Hopewell returns to action tonight against Beaver County Christian in its Class AA Section 1 opener.
Jones has six lettermen from last year's squad, 5-foot-5 junior defensive specialist Ben Bucek, 5-8 junior setter/defensive specialist Alex Barna, 5-9 sophomore setter Alex Hunt, 6-1 sophomore opposite Adam Barkman, 5-10 sophomore outside hitter/defensive specialist Joseph Josefbatvinskas and 5-7 sophomore defensive specialist Logan Palochak.
"We ran a 4-2 offense most of the year with Barna and Hunt as our setters," Jones said. "We also switched to a 5-1 at times.
"I'm looking for Barkman to be one of our best players. His older sister, Jamie, played at Pitt-Johnstown.
Others on the varsity are 5-6 junior defensive specialist John Houston, 6-0 sophomore outside hitter Christine Martine, 6-0 senior outside hitter Adam Spears, 6-4 freshman middle hitter Ben Nero, 6-4 freshman middle hitter Dakota Forest and 6-0 freshman outside hitter Ian Skal.
Mike Giles, a 6-3 senior middle hitter, is ineligible for at least two weeks.
The school musical complicated things for Jones as he prepared for the season.
"We had five or six kids in the musical, so we didn't get them until after the musical was over," Jones said. "That made it a little tough to practice."
Jones is a Hopewell graduate who was a three-year starter for long-time coach Terry Borkovic.
"I was a setter," Jones said. "I was voted to the all-section team my junior and senior years."
Jones is one of three brothers who played at Hopewell.
"I fell in love with volleyball after watching my older brothers, Justin and Jarrod," Jones said. "I was a manager for the team in seventh and eighth grade."
Jones became Borkovic's assistant in 2007.
"I was an assistant with the boys team for six years," Jones said. "I've also been Terry's assistant with the girls team, all but one season. In 2011, I was an assistant at Moon, but came back to Hopewell in 2012."