North Xtra: Fox Chapel a contender for WPIAL title

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The Fox Chapel Area boys volleyball team was without two starters in Monday's rematch with Seneca Valley, but it didn't stop the Foxes from avenging its section-opening loss to the Raiders.

"Michael Eisner and Andrew Tublin are in Europe on a trip with our Spanish Club," said Fox Chapel coach Phil O'Keeffe, after the Foxes 3-0 sweep of the Raiders.

"Fortunately, our squad doesn't have one guy whom we can't live without. Our other players picked up the slack and led us to a very big victory."

The match was supposed to be played today, and mark the opening of the second half of section play, but was moved to Monday due to Fox Chapel's long Easter break. Tuesday marked the end of the first half of section play, but the Foxes had a bye.

"It's become a four-team race for the four playoff berths in [Class AAA] Section 2," O'Keeffe said. "It's just a question of how the four teams do in the second half."

North Allegheny finished the first half in control of the section lead, as the Tigers defeated North Hills on Tuesday to improve their record to 6-0.

Fox Chapel improved its record to 5-2 with Monday's win against Seneca Valley. Seneca Valley lost to Butler Area, 3-0, Tuesday to drop to 4-3 in the section. Butler is 4-2.

"We have four very good teams in this section," O'Keeffe said. "It wouldn't surprise me to see all four of us do well in the WPIAL playoffs."

Fox Chapel began the season ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL Class AAA preseason rankings, behind North Allegheny, the seven-time defending WPIAL champion, but dropped to No. 3 after a 3-2 loss to Seneca Valley on March 25.

The Foxes stayed ahead of No. 5 Seneca Valley in the rankings due to its upset of North Allegheny in the championship match of the Derry Area tournament.

"It's a different year in the WPIAL," O'Keeffe said. "North Allegheny graduated a lot, but is still strong. Any of the top 10 teams in the WPIAL are capable of beating each other on any given day. And there are at least five, maybe six teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the title.

"I can't remember the last time we've had this much balance."

O'Keeffe uses a 10-player rotation that includes four players who were recognized on last year's All-Section 2 team. Eisner, a 6-foot-3 senior opposite and three-year starter, was voted first-team All-Section 2 and second-team All-WPIAL Class AAA.

Jaysen Zaleski, a 6-2 junior middle hitter and three-year starter, was voted second-team All-Section 2 and third-team All-WPIAL.

Max DePellegrini, a 6-0 junior setter, and Andrew Tublin, a 6-4 junior outside hitter, were recognized as second-team all-section.

"Jaysen is our go-to hitter. His best match was against Butler. He had 17 kills, 7 solo blocks and 4 double blocks," O'Keeffe said.

"Max was splitting the setting duties as a freshman, then took over as our sole setter last year. He's still learning the mental and strategic part of the game. It's nice to know that he's back next year."

Tublin is the last of three brothers to play for the Foxes. Dan Tublin is a redshirt junior at Stanford, while Josh Tublin is a redshirt freshman at Ohio State.

DePellegrini is joined on this year's squad by his twin brother Ben, a 6-0 junior outside hitter, and cousin Darren, a 6-2 senior outside hitter. All three were in last year's starting rotation.

The other four players in Fox Chapel's starting rotation are 6-6 senior middle hitter Matt D'Amico, who is also a standout basketball player, 6-6 sophomore middle hitter Jack Reese, 6-4 junior opposite Matt Herrmann and 5-7 senior libero Luke Roncevich.

D'Amico, a three-year starter on the volleyball team, played in the Roundball Classic basketball all-star game Saturday at Geneva College.

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