Last year was certainly one to remember for Pittston Area’s volleyball team. The Patriots had arguably one of their best seasons in school history, culminating with an appearance in the District 2 playoffs.
And after losing some serious fire power to graduation, Pittston Area will look to build off that momentum heading into the 2016 season. Head coach Dani McAndrew has seen her team improve over the past several seasons. In 2013, the Patriots were 1-16, and 2-15 in 2014. Last season, Pittston Area finished the regular season at 9-8, which was the best in at least a decade.
“Our goals for this year is in line with the past few years,” McAndrew said. “We’re trying to keep building on the previous years and we expect to do that this year.”
Although the Patriots lost to Wyoming Valley West in the opening round of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 Class AAA championships, how the game ended could be served as momentum for Pittston Area. The Patriots took the Spartans to a deciding fifth set and fell, 15-13. Earlier in the season, the Patriots defeated the Spartans.
“I’ve already seen what they can do over the past few years,” McAndrew said. “Just watching them finally be upperclassmen — they speak up more and talk to each other more.”
The Patriots are left with just one senior heading into this season. Setter Kirsten Durling, a key factor in the recent girls basketball success and a big part of last year’s volleyball advancement, has been playing for McAndrew all four years.
The setter really stepped at at the end of last season and his playing the best volleyball of her career, McAndrew said.
“She’s in control of the court in that position,” the coach said. “In her fourth year, this is the best I’ve seen her play. She really stepped up at the end of last year in the playoffs and now she’s it.”
Pittston Area’s biggest blow came when four-year starter Marley O’Brien, who notched more than 200 kills last season, departed due to graduation. O’Brien’s status as one of Pittston Area’s best athletes through her four years will have to be past on to the rest of the volleyball squad.
Also lost to graduation were fellow seniors and four-year players Anna McDermott and Meghan Gerrity.
To help fill out the lineup this year, Pittston Area will lean on sophomore Emily O’Brien, Marley’s sister, and juniors Portia Weidlich and Liz Charney. Weidlich is a hitter for the Patriots, while Charney will help set.
Juniors make up the majority of the team, including returning starters Weidlich, Charney and Ryanna Power.
“Those starters are back for us this year,” McAndrew said. “I’ll expect them to step up for us.”
McAndrew also has a freshman, Jocelyn Green, who should get some playing time with her natural digging ability.
Each season, McAndrew breaks down the Wyoming Valley Conference into three tiers. At the top, she said, is Holy Redeemer and Delaware Valley. She classifies her Patriots as in the middle tier, like she has in previous seasons. Pittston Area will see how it stacks up against the best WVC competition right off the bat.
Pittston Area’s season begins at Holy Redeemer on Friday, Sept. 2.