After seven players, including four starters, graduated, the Greater Latrobe High School boys volleyball team could have been going through a major rebuilding phase this season.
Instead, the Wildcats have reloaded and are once again in the running for a WPIAL Class AAA tournament berth and possibly a section title.
"We did lose some talent, but we have some talent to replace it," said coach Drew Vosefski, now in his 15th year at Latrobe. "It's not as bad as it could have been."
Vosefski has built his squad around four seniors who had starting roles on last year's squad, including Robert Gunther, a 5-foot-11 setter.
"Robert stepped into the setting role last season with a lot of pressure on him, and he handled it well," Vosefski said. "This year, he's become a leader and is running our team much more smoothly."
Latrobe boasts the tallest tandem of middle hitters in the WPIAL with 6-7 senior Nathan Carota and 6-6 senior Garrett Kollar. Carota is a two-year starter. Kollar is a three-year starter and has signed to play at George Mason University next year.
"No team in the WPIAL can match our height in the middle," Vosefski said. "We like to use our middles. We do our best to get the ball to them."
The fourth returning starter is Kevin Gibson, a 6-2 senior outside hitter who has started since his sophomore year.
"Kevin is one of the best outside hitters in the WPIAL," Vosefski said. "He's become a complete player this year."
The only other Wildcat who returns with varsity experience is T.J. Green, a 6-1 senior outside hitter who earned a varsity letter last spring.
"We have 12 players on the varsity and use an eight-player starting rotation," Vosefski said.
The other four players in that starting rotation are 5-10 senior libero Zane Harshell, 6-1 senior outside hitter Aiden O'Toole, 6-1 sophomore opposite Tom Kisick and 5-10 sophomore defensive specialist Jack Fenton.
Jared Skoloda, a 5-11 junior outside hitter, is the first player off the bench.
"In my opinion, we have the horses to compete with anybody," Vosefski said. "We just have to put it together every night on the court."
After defeating Penn-Trafford, 3-2, Tuesday, Latrobe has a 3-0 record in Class AAA Section 3 and a 3-1 overall mark. The Wildcats, ranked No. 7 in the WPIAL, posted wins of 3-0 against Gateway and 3-1 against Plum, and had a match against Penn Hills postponed due to a bus scheduling mix-up. They also dropped a 3-2 decision to No. 8 Butler Area in a non-section match.
Latrobe is one of two unbeaten teams in Section 3. Norwin is 4-0 following a 3-0 victory against Plum Tuesday. Penn-Trafford dropped to 4-1 after its loss to Latrobe.
"This is a big week for us," said Vosefski, also referring to tonight's match at Norwin. "We face the two teams that finished atop our section last year. These matches will show us where we stand."
Latrobe has been to two tournaments thus far, and is entered in two more in the next 10 days.
The Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals at the Norwin tournament before losing, 27-25, to Beaver County Christian. At the Derry Area tournament, the Wildcats lost in the quarterfinals to Penn-Trafford in a single game.
"We're in the Hempfield tournament this weekend, then we travel to State College for its tournament next weekend," Vosefski said.