Pine-Richland coach Dave Neely isn't kidding when he pointed out that the Rams are "young and inexperienced."
"We lost seven players to graduation, all of whom started or played regularly," said Neely, who is in his third season as the Rams coach. "This is the youngest team I have coached since taking the Pine-Richland job. We have sophomores starting at outside hitter and defensive specialist, and freshmen starting at setter and opposite."
Four of the seven graduates were recognized on postseason all-star teams, including setter Kevin Kunkel, who was voted Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State.
"We are a lot smaller than the last two years as far as height goes," Neely said. "We did retain one of the top liberos in the WPIAL as well as an outside hitter who is strong in serve-receive. Our serve and serve-receive is definitely our strong suit."
Pine-Richland has three returning lettermen, Jared Todorowski, a 5-foot-8 senior libero, Nick Langer, a 6-3 senior middle hitter, and Tom Barone, a 6-2 junior outside hitter.
Todorowski has been a mainstay in the Rams lineup since early in his freshman year.
"Jared is one of our captains," Neely said. "He's an outstanding player who will be playing in college next year. St. Francis and a couple of Carolina schools are looking at him right now.
"We used Nick as a serving specialist last year because we had two big seniors in the middle. This year, he's our first middle and a captain. He's a very good leader. We are also expecting him to be one of our scoring leaders."
Barone started on the right side and at defensive specialist the past two years.
"We've moved him to the left side this year and made him our feature hitter," Neely said. "He had 75 hitting attempts against North Allegheny and connected on 37.5 percent. Teams are finding that it's not easy to shut him down."
Neely believes Todorowski, Barone and 6-1 sophomore outside hitter James Kozej give the Rams three players who have exceptional skills at serve-receive.
"I would put those three against any threesome in the WPIAL in the area of serve-receive," Neely said.
Newcomers who have stepped into the starting rotation are 5-11 senior middle hitter Kevin Killeen, 6-0 sophomore opposite Mike Pohlod and 5-10 freshman setter Lance Todorowski.
"Kevin is a first-year senior who is undersized, but can jump well," Neely said. "Kevin comes from a volleyball family. His sister, Rachel, played at Oakland Catholic, and his brother, Andrew, played at Pine-Richland.
"Mike was a serving specialist and defensive specialist last year as a freshman. He's playing opposite this year."
Lance Todorowski, Jared's younger brother, has become the setter, despite being a freshman.
"Lance was the setter on Pittsburgh Volleyball Club's 14-and-under team, so he's had significant experience at the club level," Neely said. "He's trying to fill the shoes of all-state setter Kevin Kunkel. It's obvious that Lance will be a huge part of our team for the next four years."
Neely has two others who will see more time as the season progresses, 6-1 freshman opposite Sam Vidic and 5-11 junior outside hitter David Brinski.
"Sam and David are both first-year players," Neely said.
Pine-Richland has played two very strong opponents and lost both. The Rams lost, 3-0, to Penn-Trafford in a non-section match, but all three sets were close. They also dropped a 3-1 decision to seven-time defending WPIAL champion North Allegheny in its Class AAA Section 2 opener.
"We have six very competitive teams in Section 2, but only four can make the playoffs," Neely said.
Pine-Richland lost Tuesday at Butler, 3-1. The Rams play host to Fox Chapel tonight.
Neely is happy to have two full-time coaches for the first time. Mike Nypaver is the varsity assistant, and Matt Robertson is the junior varsity coach. Both Nypaver and Robertson are North Allegheny graduates.