North Xtra: After a rugged start, Fox Chapel volleyball comes on strong
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When the Fox Chapel girls volleyball team lost three of its first four matches to begin its Section 3-AAA debut, many were wondering whether the Foxes were in over their head.
Section 3 has been recognized as the strongest of the Class AAA sections for the past four years, as it has produced seven of eight WPIAL finalists during that period.
Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland have each made three title match appearances and claimed one title each during this stretch, while North Allegheny captured the 2008 championship.
Fox Chapel, a co-champion in Section 4 last season, was added to the Section 3 mix when the WPIAL realigned its sections during the offseason.
"The change to Section 3 really put a monkey wrench into our plans," Fox Chapel coach Sara D'Angelo said. "I had a veteran team coming back after tying for the Section 4 title last year. I was unsure of what to expect in our new section."
Fox Chapel opened with losses to Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland, rebounded with a win against North Hills, then lost to North Allegheny in its fourth match.
"We faced three of the best teams in the WPIAL in the first two weeks of the season," D'Angelo said. "That's a tough task for any team."
D'Angelo realized that rebounding from a 1-3 start to make a return trip to the WPIAL playoffs would not be easy, but saw something in her squad that made her think it was possible.
"We took one set in each one of those matches," D'Angelo said. "That showed me we could compete with these teams. I just had to convince the girls that it was possible."
Fox Chapel concluded the first half of section play with wins against Hampton and Butler Area to even its record at 3-3. The momentum from those wins carried over to the second half, as the Foxes avenged its losses to Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland and North Allegheny, and after defeating Butler, 3-1, in Tuesday's section finale posted an impressive 9-3 section record.
North Allegheny defeated Pine-Richland, 3-0, and stands alone in first place with a 9-2 record with one match remaining. Pine-Richland dropped to 8-3.
"We've qualified for the playoffs," said D'Angelo, who is in her third season as the Foxes coach. "That's a huge accomplishment in this section."
North Allegheny and Pine-Richland have also qualified. Seneca Valley has dropped to 6-4 and will most likely fall short of a playoff berth.
"When I took over three years ago, I had a group of sophomores who had the potential to be very good," D'Angelo said. "They just didn't have the mental toughness to be a factor in the playoffs. I've worked these girls very hard to make sure they are mentally tough."
Fox Chapel is led by two seniors who are three-year starters, Marcy Meinert and Sarah Bradley. Meinert, a 5-foot-5 libero, was voted third-team All-WPIAL. Bradley, a 5-9 middle hitter, was first-team All-Section 4-AAA.
"Marcy is one of the most consistent players I've ever coached," D'Angelo said. "Sarah has evolved from a sophomore who could block to a senior who is now our best offensive weapon. Sarah leads the team in kills almost every match."
The setter is 5-6 senior Alyson Hess.
"Alyson was a hitter during her sophomore year," D'Angelo said. "Last year, midway through the season I saw her do a one-foot spin set during practice. I immediately stopped practice and told her she would be our setter."
Carly Slovonec, a 5-10 senior middle hitter, Michaela Patsko, a 5-7 junior outside hitter, and Megan Hollingsworth, a 5-6 junior outside hitter, are also returning starters.
Possibly the biggest reason for Fox Chapel's turnaround is the return of Riley Herrmann, a 6-0 left-handed right-side hitter, who returned at midseason.
The other two players in Fox Chapel's nine-player rotation are 5-5 junior defensive specialist Betsy Slagel and 6-0 freshman middle hitter Anna Stangenberger, who started when Herrmann was injured.
First Published October 18, 2012 12:00 am