South Xtra: Upper St. Clair is in contention for volleyball playoff berth

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Josh Ficorilli has an interesting resume.

"I teach health and physical education at Crafton Elementary in the Carlynton School District," said Ficorilli, the new head boys volleyball coach at Upper St. Clair. "I'm also an assistant football coach at Quaker Valley. I coach the running backs and linebackers."

Ficorilli took over as head volleyball coach at Upper St. Clair when Jack Zebo stepped down after 15 seasons.

"In August, Jack told me he was thinking about hanging it up," said Ficorilli, who served as one of Zebo's assistant coaches the past five years. "He has three young kids and coaching was cutting into his time with the kids."

Ficorilli immediately contacted Mark Killinger, Zebo's other assistant coach.

"I asked Mark if he was interested in the head coaching job, since he had been with Jack for a year longer than me," Ficorilli said. "Mark is the head girls [volleyball] coach at Charleroi and he didn't want to take on another head coaching job, but told me I should apply."

Ficorilli applied and was hired, and Killenger returned as an assistant.

"The transition went very smoothly because we are both familiar with the program," Ficorilli said. "My title has changed, but the goal is still the same -- compete for the section title and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs."

And that's just what the Panthers are in the process of doing.

Upper St. Clair has a 6-2 record in Class AAA Section 1. Three-time defending champion Bethel Park leads the section with a 7-0 mark, while Peters Township is second at 7-1.

The Panthers defeated Baldwin, 3-1, on Tuesday to stay in contention, while Peters shut out Central Catholic, 3-0. Bethel Park was idle.

"I expected us to be one of the top three teams in the section and that's just where we stand," Ficorilli said. "I'm very pleased with our performance thus far, especially considering eight of the top 12 players from last year's squad graduated."

Upper St. Clair plays host to Central Catholic tonight, then has two big matches next week. The Panthers play at Bethel Park on Tuesday, then play host to Peters Township next Thursday.

"We're obviously looking forward to those two matches, but we can't afford to look past Central Catholic," said Ficorilli, a 1997 graduate of Deer Lakes High School who went on to play libero at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Ficorilli uses as many as 12 players in most matches and is still looking for the Panthers best starting rotation.

"We have only three seniors and a lot of first-year kids, so I switch players to find the combination that works best for each match," Ficorilli said.

The three seniors are 6-foot-4 outside hitter Mitch Boring, 6-0 middle hitter Jarrod Browne and 6-2 outside/right-side hitter Jon Pierson.

"Mitch and Jarrod are our co-captains," Ficorilli said. "Mitch has been with our program since his freshman year. This is his first full year as a starter.

"Jarrod is a two-year starter and our vocal leader."

Ficorilli began the season with Bill Smith, a 5-10 junior, making his debut at setter, but that may change soon.

"Bill is better suited to play libero since he's our best passer, but we needed him at setter," Ficorilli said. "I've been working with a freshman setter with the hopes of making a switch soon. With Bill in the back row, we are a much better team defensively and in serve receive."

The freshman Ficorilli is referring to is Eric Lehman.

"Eric is our future at setter," Ficorilli said. "I've been trying to work him into the lineup as much as possible. My hope is to eventually have him do all the setting and have Bill as our libero."

Upper St. Clair's only other returning letterman is Brad Colditz, a 5-10 junior outside hitter.

"Brad missed the first half of the season with an ankle injury," Ficorilli said. "He's back, but hasn't caught up with everybody yet."

Others who have seen significant playing time in the Panthers rotation are 6-2 junior middle hitter Jacob Pye, 6-0 junior outside/right-side hitter Garrett O'Grady, 6-2 middle/right-side hitter Pat Vopal, 5-8 junior libero/back-row specialist Allan Stott, 6-1 freshman middle hitter Nolan Kondrich, 5-10 sophomore libero Robbie Mackey and 5-8 junior defensive specialist Max Gray.

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