The Butler Area High School girls volleyball team has made only two WPIAL playoff appearances in the past 14 years and its most recent playoff appearance was in 2008.
"One goal I set with every team I've coached is to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs," said Dan Mountain, now in his second year at Butler after leading Mars to six consecutive WPIAL Class AA playoff appearances.
"We fell short of a playoff berth last year [after finishing fourth in Class AAA Section 3 with a 6-6 record]. Our goal is to get back to the playoffs, but that's never easy in this section."
Butler has the difficult task of competing in Section 3, widely considered the strongest of the five Class AAA sections. Three of the past four WPIAL champions are from Section 3. North Allegheny is the defending WPIAL champion. Seneca Valley claimed the title in 2011, and Pine-Richland won in 2010.
"It's much tougher to qualify in this section, but the teams that do qualify usually go far in the playoffs," Mountain said. "Just look at the success North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley have had in the past. Don't forget Mars has moved up to Class AAA."
Butler opened its section schedule on Tuesday with a 3-2 loss at Mars. The Golden Tornado will play host to Gateway tonight in a non-section match.
The season actually began for Butler on Saturday, as the Golden Tornado played host to the 10-team Butler Invitational. Mountain's squad came close to winning the title.
"The thing that impressed me the most was that we improved throughout the day," said Mountain, who teaches seventh-grade history at Butler Junior High. "We split with all three teams [Kiski Area, Avonworth and Indiana] in the preliminary round robin."
Butler did much better in the playoff round, posting a 4-2 overall record, but fell short of a title after a 2-1 loss to Hopewell. The Golden Tornado posted a 1-0 victory in the quarterfinals against West Allegheny, then swept Kiski Area, 2-0, in the semifinals.
"We've got an even bigger challenge this weekend [Saturday] at the Shaler tournament," Mountain said. "They have 16 teams, including a few District 10 teams. How we do in this tournament will give us a good indication on where we stand."
Mountain has only three starters back from last tear's squad, 5-foot-7 senior setter Rachel Rebmann, 5-5 senior outside hitter Alyssa DiPippa and 5-7 senior libero Lauren Skidmore.
"Rachel started last year and also played quite a bit as a sophomore," Mountain said. "Alysssa is an undersized outside hitter who plays much taller than she really is. Lauren is our libero this year."
Four others return to the varsity with enough previous experience to earn them a letter, 5-10 senior opposite Baylee Verner, 5-3 senior defensive specialist Tarrah Freund, 5-9 junior middle hitter Paige Lamermont and 5-6 junior outside hitter Alexis Schmiedler.
Newcomers to the offense are 5-9 senior middle hitter Ronni Guiney, 5-5 junior outside hitter Emily Horstman, 5-9 junior middle hitter Autumm Rodgers and 5-5 junior defensive specialist Kelly Kabay. One sophomore, Caitlyn Martin, a 5-9 outside hitter, is expected to get significant playing time this year.
"We're not as tall this year, so we have to play good defense," Mountain said. "Facing tall teams is a concern. We just have to be physically and mentally prepared for anything."