North Xtra: Seneca Valley stays in playoff hunt

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After an extremely busy workload last week, the Seneca Valley boys volleyball team gets a break from its Class AAA Section 2 schedule this week.

"We had three matches back-to-back-to-back last week," Raiders coach Dan Follett said. "Two were rescheduled matches. Fox Chapel and North Hills had to reschedule due to other functions at their school."

Seneca Valley's week began with a 3-0 loss on April 14 to Fox Chapel, a team the Raiders defeated in the first half. The match was supposed to be played Thursday, but Fox Chapel asked to move it up a few days.

The next night, Seneca Valley faced county rival Butler Area and dropped a 3-1 decision in a match that closed out the first half of section play.

The Raiders rebounded the following night with a 3-0 sweep of North Hills, in a match that was originally scheduled for today.

"It's tough on the kids to have three matches in a row," Follett said. "I used at least a dozen players to try and save their legs."

Seneca Valley does not have a section match this week, but the Raiders do not have the week off. They lost a non-section match against Plum, 3-0, on Tuesday and will play host to a 14-team tournament on Saturday.

"It's nice to have a little break from our section schedule," Follett said. "It gives me a chance to experiment with a few different lineups."

Seneca Valley is one of three teams in Section 2 battling for second place. Seven-time WPIAL champion North Allegheny has an 8-0 record. Fox Chapel is tied with Butler for second at 6-2. Seneca Valley is just a game behind that pair at 5-3.

"I've talked with the other coaches in our section, and we agree that this is one of the best years our section has ever seen across the board," said Follett, a 2007 Seneca Valley alumnus now in his second year as head coach. "Just take a look at the rankings."

All four are ranked among the top six in the WPIAL in Class AAA. North Allegheny is No. 1, Fox Chapel No. 3, Butler No. 5 and Seneca Valley No. 6.

"You can't afford to have an off night in this section," Follett said. "Everybody is gunning for each other. But the nice thing about our section is that it prepares us for the next level."

The top four finishers in each section qualify for the WPIAL Class AAA tournament.

"I'm still trying to find the perfect starting rotation," Follett said. "I use quite a few players with some playing multiple positions, and almost everybody is a returning letterman."

Follett is using three players at the setter position, and switches back and forth between a one-setter and two-setter offense. The three setters are 6-foot senior Zach Lyman, 5-9 junior Anthony Sprentz and 5-9 sophomore Luke Pecora.

"We've had some growing pains, but all three are at the same level," Follett said. "When one is struggling, I can plug in another. We have a lot of flexibility at setter."

Follett uses Lyman as a utility player.

"Zach does it all for us. He can hit, set and play defense. I use him where ever I need him."

Other seniors in the starting rotation are 6-0 middle hitter Mike Jones and 5-7 libero/defensive specialist Matt Palichat.

Jones' younger brother Steve is a 5-9 junior defensive specialist. The Raiders also have a set of twins, Austin and Tyler Herrmann are a pair of 6-2 junior outside hitters.

Others in the starting rotation are 6-4 junior middle/right-side hitter Taylor Matthews, and 6-0 junior outside hitter John Price.

"I try to match Taylor against our opponent's best attacker," Follett said. "John is a great athlete who has transformed himself into a reliable five-tool player."

Joining the Raiders at their tournament Saturday are Allderdice, Beaver County Christian, Canon-McMillan, Cochranton, Erie McDowell, Farrell, Fort LeBoeuf, Hempfield Area, Keystone Oaks, Obama Academy, Saegertown, Steel Valley and West Shamokin,

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