South Xtra: Bethel volleyball team tries to follow WPIAL champ's blueprint

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Bethel Park boys volleyball coach Tom Allman ended the 2013 season with hopes that his program could become more like North Allegheny's program.

"North Allegheny loses a large senior class every year and reloads with younger players who have experience playing club ball," said Allman, after the Black Hawks most successful season in school history. "We need to follow that strategy."

Bethel Park advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA title match last year and gave North Allegheny all it could handle before losing in a five-set heartbreaker. The Black Hawks had to replace eight members of that squad who graduated, including six who were part of the starting rotation, and three of those were recognized on the All-WPIAL Class AAA team.

"We lost a very talented senior class, but had a half-dozen lettermen returning to rebuild this year's squad," Allman said. "And all six played club ball during the offseason."

The strategy has worked, as Bethel Park had a 6-0 record in Section 1 and a 9-0 overall mark in dual matches. The Black Hawks' impressive start has resulted in a No. 4 spot in the WPIAL Class AAA rankings.

Bethel Park ended the first half of section play with Tuesday's 3-0 victory at Baldwin. The Black Hawks began the second half with a home match against winless Central Catholic on Wednesday.

"We're a much different team than last year," Allman said. "Last year's squad had a lot of firepower with [opposite] Grant Underwood leading the way. This year's squad has a more balanced offense. We rely more on defense, passing and blocking. We've been getting a lot of points with our blocking."

Bethel Park used that formula to win the title at Saturday's Fox Chapel tournament.

"We played pretty well and came through when it mattered most, in the playoffs," Allman said. "We beat Fox Chapel, 25-17, in the quarterfinals, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 30-28, in the semifinals, and Saegertown, 25-22, in the championship match."

Allman's squad has three returning starters and three others who lettered. All six played club ball during the offseason.

The returning starters are 6-foot-5 sophomore outside hitter Jake Dixon, 6-0 senior libero Danny Burke and 6-5 senior middle hitter Brandon Hanson.

"Jake started for us last year as a freshman," Allman said. "He also started on the football and basketball teams this year. He's one of the best young players in the WPIAL."

Burke, a four-year letterman, has a chance to do something no player has done in school history.

"We've won three consecutive section titles, which is a school record, and have a chance to win a fourth this year," Allman said. "Danny is only the third four-year lettermen in school history and could be the first to be on four section champion teams. He's one of the best liberos in the WPIAL.

"Brandon developed into our top middle hitter last year. He can jump out of his shoes."

The other three returning lettermen are 6-2 senior opposite Lenny Chorney, 6-0 junior outside hitter Steve Eiben and 6-0 sophomore setter Brandon Thorson.

"Lenny played behind Underwood last year, and Brandon was our backup setter," Allman said. "Brandon [Thorson] and Jake [Dixon] played for a 16-under club team that placed ninth in the country over the summer, and both were only 15 years old."

Three newcomers have joined Allman's starting rotation, 5-8 junior defensive specialist David Uhlman, 6-2 senior middle hitter Werner Hernandez and 5-8 sophomore back-row specialist Derek Miller.

"North Allegheny is not as strong as it was last year, but is still the team to beat in the WPIAL," Allman said. "There are six to eight teams right behind North Allegheny that are very close in talent. I can't remember a year where we've had so much balance in the WPIAL."

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