Winning the City League boys volleyball title last week was a bittersweet moment for Obama Academy coach Pete Vitti and his assistant Greg Lockley.
It was the third consecutive City League title for the Eagles, and the 15th consecutive title for Vitti, who also has had coaching stints at Allderdice and Schenley on his resume.
"This is our [program's] last year in the City League," Vitti said. "We're moving to the WPIAL next year. It was a tough decision, especially since I grew up in the City League. I've been a City League boy since I attended Peabody High School and played volleyball for legendary coach Joe Silipo. One of the reasons I went into teaching and coaching is coach Silipo's guidance."
With the City League down to only six high schools, Vitti felt it was time to move Obama's boys and girls programs to the WPIAL for a better level of competition.
"It was time for us to make a move," said Vitti, now in his 20th season of coaching in the City League. "Playing in the City League doesn't present the same opportunities it did when I started coaching. There have been so many school closures. We used to have 12 high schools. Now it's down to six."
Obama is not the first City League school to have teams in various sports leave to compete in the WPIAL, and it certainly will not be the last.
In the 2014-15 school year, all City League soccer and swimming teams will be competing in the WPIAL. Allderdice has also moved to the WPIAL for boys and girls tennis, baseball and softball.
"I wanted to get better competition for our volleyball teams," Vitti said. "The WPIAL has some of the top schools in the state competing in both boys and girls volleyball."
Vitti has spent the past few weeks reminiscing about his days in the City League.
"I graduated from Peabody in 1983 and played with Greg [Lockley], who graduated in 1984," Vitti said. "We also played at Pitt together on a club team. And when I started coaching in 1995 at Allderdice, Greg offered to be my graduate assistant."
Vitti and Lockley went their separate coaching ways after that first season, but remained close friends. Two years ago, Vitti was allowed to hire an assistant, so he asked Lockley to join him with the boys team.
"It's been great working with Greg again, and we're back at the old gym [at Peabody] that we used to play in" Vitti said. "He deserves a lot of credit for our success. We're more competitive because of his work with the team."
Obama Academy, which is headquartered in the old Peabody High School building, posted a 10-0 record in the City League regular season and dominated the postseason tournament, which took place last week at Brashear High School. The Eagles swept all three opponents in the City League tournament.
"This is the best performance of any team I've coached in the City League tournament," Vitti said. "We held everybody to 14 points or less. We dominated our competition."
Vitti and Lockley have used an eight-player rotation, which includes Ray Cascio, a 6-foot-5 junior middle hitter who was voted All-City League last season. Cascio recorded 20 kills and 10 blocks during the City League tournament.
Cascio is one of three captains. The others are Rohun Joseph, a 6-2 junior middle hitter and two-year starter, and Connor Claussen, a 6-3 sophomore setter who broke into the starting lineup last year as a freshman. Claussen recorded 65 assists in the City League tournament.
"Cascio, Claussen and [Michael] Wimer played club ball for the [Pittsburgh Volleyball Club] during the offseason," Vitti said. "The three of them make us strong up the middle."
Wimer is a 5-7 sophomore libero. He played enough last year to earn a letter.
Rounding out the Eagles eight-man starting rotation are 5-7 junior outside hitter Devaugh Hester, 6-2 junior outside hitter Marcus Motley, 6-2 junior opposite Denzel Fields and 6-5 senior utility hitter Jonathan Powell.
Hester recorded 20 kills in the City League tournament. Fields is a first-year player who also plays basketball. Powell is the first player off the bench.
By winning the City League title, Obama Academy qualified for the PIAA Class AA tournament. The Eagles were scheduled to play Bishop Guilfoyle from Altoona at Altoona High School Wednesday in a preliminary-round match.
"We've been very competitive with teams outside the WPIAL this year," Vitti said. "We beat Cochranton in the quarterfinals of the Seneca Valley tournament. We also advanced to the semifinals at the North Hills tournament before losing to Butler."