Here's something that doesn't happen very often.
The Montour High School boys volleyball team finished the first half of play in Section 1 in fourth place with a 1-3 record, but were No. 5 in the WPIAL Class AA rankings.
"That shows just how strong our section is," said Montour coach Brendon Aleski, now in his 13th season at the helm. "This is the best our section has been since the WPIAL switched to two classes [in 2007]. We have four teams in this section capable of making it to the WPIAL title match."
Ambridge Area, the WPIAL champion five of the past six years, is ranked No. 1. Beaver County Christian is No. 3 and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is No. 4. The only team in the top five not competing in Section 1 is No. 2-ranked Derry Area, the WPIAL runner-up three of the past four years.
Montour began the second half of section play Tuesday by defeating Beaver County Christian, 3-1. The Spartans played at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Wednesday night.
"If we were in Section 3, we would be leading the section," said Aleski, referring to the fact that Montour swept Section 3 co-leader Thomas Jefferson in a non-league match. "I think we shocked them. We beat them 25-12 and 25-11 in the first two games."
Despite the domination of Thomas Jefferson, Aleski prefers to be in Section 1.
"I would rather have stiff competition," Aleski said. "It gets you ready for the playoffs."
Montour played most of the first half without one of its top players.
"Shane McCarthy fell and landed on his wrist in our second set against Beaver County Christian," said Aleski, referring to a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter. "We had just lost the first set, 29-27. We lost Shane for the rest of that match and our matches against OLSH and Ambridge.
"It really hurt having Shane out of the lineup. He is strong in every aspect of the game. He can do it all."
At first, it looked as if McCar-thy had sustained a broken wrist. After two weeks, he sought a second opinion and was cleared to play in the Koller Classic at Central York High School, one of the strongest tournaments in the state.
He played all day long with a brace to protect his wrist and helped Montour to a 4-4 record, which is very respectable for a tournament of that caliber.
"I was very happy with the way we played at Central York," Aleski said. "We split with Parkland in pool play and gave Chambersburg all it could handle in a 25-22 playoff loss. Both teams are ranked in Class AAA."
Aleski uses an eight-player rotation that includes four three-year starters, 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter Zach Renninger, 6-8 senior middle hitter Matt Cain, 5-7 senior Mike Hensler and 6-2 senior middle hitter Tyler Herman.
"Zach is our go-to hitter," Aleski said. "He wants the ball when the game is on the line. He doesn't shy away from pressure situations.
"Matt has the ability to be a game-changer. He's possibly the tallest player in Class AA."
Hensler started as a back-row specialist during his sophomore season, then moved to libero last year. Herman has played on the right side and in the middle, where he currently plays.
"Mike should have been voted to the all-section team last year," Aleski said. "He's the foundation of our defense."
Garcia Ramser, a 6-0 senior, has taken over as the Spartans setter.
"Garcia was Zach Hartman's understudy the past two years," said Aleski, referring to a 2013 graduate. "He's waited a while for his chance to start and is taking advantage of the opportunity."
The other two player in Aleski's eight-player rotation are 6-2 junior middle hitter Marlon Wilkinson and 5-10 sophomore back-row specialist Keegan Ramser, Garcia's younger brother.
Also seeing significant playing time are 5-8 junior back-row specialist Justin Keck and 6-0 junior middle hitter/serving specialist Doug Sebesta.