South Xtra: Peters targets a return to volleyball playoffs

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The Peters Township boys volleyball team has made four consecutive appearances in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament and keeping the streak alive is a goal coach Chris Kelly and the Indians have set for this season.

"One goal we set every year is to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs," Kelly said. "We lost a lot to graduation, but our goal has not changed."

Five players, including four starters, graduated from last year's team.

"Our biggest concern was replacing Gabe Pritz," said Kelly, referring to an athletic 6-foot-5 right-side hitter from last year's squad who was recognized on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State Team. "We certainly had concerns about who would be replacing Gabe."

Kelly has three starters returning, along with two others who lettered.

The returning starters are Christian Fink, Xander Browell and Shawn McNally.

Fink is a 5-8 senior libero who was voted third-team All-WPIAL Class AAA last year.

"Christian is a four-year letterman and three-year starter at libero," Kelly said. "If he's not the best libero in the WPIAL, he has to be among the top three."

Browell is a 6-4 senior middle hitter.

"This is Xander's second full year as a starter," Kelly said. "He's got natural jumping ability. He was especially impressive in last year's playoff match against Norwin. He was the best player on the court that night. He's obviously become our go-to hitter now that Gabe has graduated."

McNally is a 5-11 senior setter.

"This is Shawn's second year as our setter," Kelly said. "He's improved so much since last year. He works very hard and trains hard. He's always in the weight room."

The other two returning lettermen are 5-9 senior defensive specialist Aaron Ranallo and 5-8 senior defensive specialist Matt Neky.

"I knew coming into the season that serve-receive and defense would be our strong suits," Kelly said. "Things have played out that way. We need to improve our offense."

Four newcomers join the Indians returnees at key positions. All were members of the JV team last year. The four are 6-0 junior outside hitter James Bertrand, 6-0 sophomore outside hitter Joe Fick, 6-0 junior middle hitter Sean Harrison and 6-4 junior opposite Nathan Young.

"We lost both outsides and our opposite to graduation," Kelly said. "Finding replacements for them was a big concern. Bertrand and Fick have filled our openings at outside hitter. Young is our opposite."

Bertrand missed the first week of practice with a broken wrist. He is now healthy.

Two other Indians have received significant playing time, 6-0 senior outside hitter Clayton Wunderlich and 5-9 sophomore defensive specialist Jordan Ranallo.

Peters Township opened the season at the Norwin Tournament.

"We did OK at Norwin," Kelly said. "We beat Farrell in the first round of the playoffs, then lost to Butler in the quarterfinals."

Peters Township is off to a good start in Class AAA Section 1. The Indians have posted 3-0 sweeps of Baldwin and Central Catholic, but lost to Bethel Park, 3-1, Tuesday.

"Bethel Park is the clear-cut favorite in the section," Kelly said. "I haven't seen Upper St. Clair yet, so I can't tell you where we fit into the picture in the section. I just know that we can challenge anybody."

The Indians play host to North Hills in a non-section match tonight.

"We also have a match scheduled Friday against Baldwin," Kelly said. "It's not often that we play both matches against them so quickly, but the match was [originally] scheduled for Good Friday."

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