East Xtra: It was a semi-sweet season for Derry

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Next year could be "the" year for the Derry Area High School boys volleyball team.

The Trojans finished the 2014 season as the WPIAL Class AA runner-up after losing to Ambridge Area in the title match. It marked the fourth time in the past five years that the Trojans lost to the Bridgers in the district finals.

"We've been to the WPIAL finals four of the last five years," Derry coach Shawn Spencer said. "Not many teams can say that."

The only other teams that can claim that are North Allegheny and Ambridge, the reigning WPIAL champions.

"Our goal every year is to win the WPIAL title," said Spencer, who completed his ninth season as the Trojans coach last week. "We've come very close four of the last five years. It's disappointing to get that close and fall short, but I'm very proud of what the kids have been able to accomplish."

Ten days after losing in the WPIAL title match, Derry had a chance to avenge its loss to Ambridge in the PIAA Class AA semifinals. Unfortunately for the Trojans, they dropped a 3-1 decision.

"Both teams played hard and we had our chances," Spencer said. "They just did a better job of finishing games than we did. I have to give them credit. We put up a good battle both times, but came up short."

Derry bids good-bye to six players who are graduating, including three who were voted first-team All-WPIAL Class AA, outside hitters Matt Vasinko and Ethan Houston and libero Izaak Fulmer-Moffat. The other three seniors are outside hitter Sam Watters, and defensive specialists Zak Hafer and Dom Craine.

"All six were part of our starting rotation," Spencer said. "Matt, Ethan and Izaak completed stellar careers and were recognized as first-team WPIAL all-stars. We're losing a very talented group to graduation."

The good news is that Derry has a talented group of players returning who could lead the Trojans to a WPIAL title.

Spencer used an 11-player rotation, which included five juniors, and four of them were recognized as All-WPIAL players.

Middle hitter Ian Malis, outside hitter Nico Latta and setter Jake Zemba were voted to the second team, while middle hitter Troy Balega was a third-team selection. The other junior in Derry's starting rotation is defensive specialist Brody Patrick.

"We have a really strong nucleus of kids coming back, including our setter," Spencer said. "We also have a lot of kids who had success in the JV ranks coming back. We're looking forward to next season."

With four All-WPIAL players returning, along with the other top teams in Class AA dealing with significant graduation attrition, Derry will probably enter the 2015 season as the WPIAL title favorite.

"It will be a challenge for the top teams in Class AA to replace graduating seniors," Spencer said. "All the top teams in Class AA will be hit hard by graduation losses. Ambridge, Montour, [Our Lady of the Sacred Heart] and Beaver County Christian are all losing very talented senior classes.

"We're losing a tremendous amount of talent in Class AA. Just take a look at the WPIAL all-star list. It's loaded with seniors. It's the best group of seniors I've seen in the eight years we've had [Class] AA."

All 10 first-team All-WPIAL players are seniors, including Ambridge outside hitter Lee Smith and OLSH outside hitter Shaughn McDonald, who made their fourth appearances on the first team. Four seniors were on the second team and seven on the third team. That translates to 21 out of 30 all-stars were seniors.

"We have the most coming back," Spencer said. "But Ambridge always finds a way to reload, and Montour and OLSH had good success in the JV ranks. It should be a good battle."

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