(Bethel Park setter Ryan Dunay during the Norwin Tournament on March 24. Photo by Ken Wunderley, Tri-State Sports & News Service)
The Bethel Park High School boys volleyball team spent a lot of time on the road during the first half of its Section 1-AAA schedule.
Four of the Black Hawks' five section matches were on the road.
"We would have had two home matches in the first half, but Baldwin asked if we could switch our two matches," Bethel Park coach Tom Allman said. "That left us with four road matches in the first half."
Having so many matches away from home was tough, but the Black Hawks got through it relatively unscathed. They won four of the five matches, with their only setback to Upper St. Clair in five games.
"It's great knowing that we will be at home most of the second half," Allman said. "But we have to take advantage of it. We can't overlook anybody in this section. There is no weak team in this section."
Bethel Park opened the second half with a home sweep of Central Catholic, improving its record to 5-1. Upper St. Clair is 7-0 after defeating Baldwin, 3-0, Tuesday while Bethel Park had an open date.
"Our only road match in the second half is [tonight] against Peters Township," Allman said. "We beat them, 3-1, in the first half, but it was a close match. Playing at Peters Township is never easy."
Peters Township lost three of its first four matches in section play, but rebounded with wins in its next two. The Indians are in the playoff hunt with a 4-3 record after defeating Central Catholic, 3-1.
"Peters Township has started slowly the last couple years, but came on strong in the second half," Allman said. "In fact, I was surprised to see it happen again, because they have a lot of talent on that team. This is a big match for both teams."
Bethel Park, No. 8 in the WPIAL Class AAA rankings, needs another win against Peters to stay in serious contention for the section title.
"This is the most important six days of the season for us," Allman said. "We face Upper St. Clair on Tuesday. We can't afford to be looking ahead in tonight's match. If we beat Peters Township and Upper St. Clair, we have a chance to tie for [or win outright] the section title."
Allman doesn't like to look ahead, but realizes just how close the Black Hawks were to beating Upper St. Clair in the first half.
"It was so close that the score of the fifth game was 21-19," Allman said. "I had quite a few people tell me how exciting that match was. I expect the same with the rematch, but this time we will be at home."
Sandwiched in between the Peters Township and Upper St. Clair matches is Saturday's Plum Tournament.
"I was just looking at the lineup for the Plum Tournament and it's a very strong field," Allman said. "It will be a tuneup for the Upper St. Clair match."
Bethel Park has done well in its other two tournament appearances. The Black Hawks advanced to the finals of the Fox Chapel Tournament before losing to defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion Deer Lakes.
"We were also in the Norwin Tournament the first weekend of the season," Allman said. "We tied for fifth place after losing in the quarterfinals. We didn't play as well as I had hoped, but we have a tendency to start slow."
Allman uses a nine-player rotation, which includes five returning starters, seniors Ryan Dunay, Mitch Pierson, and Ryan Thorsen, and juniors Grant Underwood and Bobby Huntington.
Dunay is a 5-foot-11 setter who was voted to the third team of the WPIAL Class AAA All-Star Team last year.
"[Dunay] is one of the top three or four setters in the WPIAL," Allman said. "It's great having him back to run our offense."
Pierson and Underwood are a pair of 6-4 right-side hitters. Underwood was voted to the second team of the Section 1-AAA All-Star Team.
"We lost our two big outside hitters to graduation, but had Mitch and Grant coming back on the right side, so we've been attacking more from that side," Allman said.
"Mitch has a lot of talent, but hasn't finished a season yet. He suffered a broken arm last season, had a back injury the year before, and had an ankle injury as a freshman. Grant has the talent to be one of the elite players in the WPIAL, but he has a tendency to lose confidence and focus at times."
Thorsen, a 5-11 senior, was voted to the second team of the section all-star team last year as a back-row specialist. This year, he's an outside hitter. Huntington is a 6-2 middle hitter.
Also in Bethel Park's nine-player rotation are 5-10 senior outside hitter Jason Kinger, 5-8 junior libero Luke Hudson, 5-10 sophomore back-row specialist Danny Burke and 5-10 junior defensive specialist Alex Kiselica.