(Photo: Latrobe setter Jonathan Skoloda against Montour at the Derry Tournament. Tri-State Sports & News Service photo.)
The 2011 boys volleyball season is one that Greater Latrobe coach Drew Vosefski and his Wildcats squad would like to forget.
Latrobe shared the cellar in Section 3-AAA with Gateway, as the two teams tied for last place with a 1-11 record. It was a sobering performance by a program that had made four consecutive appearances in the WPIAL semifinals.
"We struggled through last season with only one senior," Vosefski said. "It was a tough year for both the kids and for me."
With such a young squad, one thing is for sure. Almost everybody is back.
"Hopefully, that plays to our benefit this year," said Vosefski, who realizes that experience doesn't always guarantee a winning season. "We have nine players back with starting experience, including a setter who is back for his third season."
Vosefski was referring to Jonathan Skolada, a 6-foot-2 senior who was voted second-team All-Section 3-AAA last season.
"Jonathan's nickname is 'The General' because he's our floor general," Vosefski said. "He had a lot of responsibility in taking over the setting role as a sophomore on a senior-laden team. Last year, was just the opposite as Jonathan was the experienced setter for a team that had all new hitters.
"He's a natural-born leader who has shown great leadership throughout. If I had 100 Jonathan Skoladas, I would rule the volleyball world."
Skolada is also a leader off the court.
"Jonathan is in the final stages of being accepted to either West Point or to the Air Force Academy," Vosefski said. "He also has a 3.75 grade point average. He's a real good kid."
Adam Kniffen, a 6-4 junior, can also set, but is more valuable to the Wildcats as a right-side hitter.
"Adam could be the starting setter on most teams, but with Jonathan running our offense, Adam is more valuable to us as a hitter and blocker," said Vosefski. "Adam has blossomed into a a very strong opposite."
Kniffen and Skolada head up a 10-man rotation that includes five seniors and five juniors.
The other seniors are 6-3 outside hitter Mac Flasher, 6-1 outside hitter Tyler Peffer, 5-10 senior libero Austin Faddish and 6-0 defensive specialist Kyp Wojciechowski.
"Mac [Flasher] is a three-year letterman and two-year starter," Vosefski said. "When he was a sophomore, we used him in the back row as a serving specialist. Last season, he served as a platoon player in the middle. This year, we've moved him to the outside.
"Tyler [Peffer] suffered a shoulder injury during a preseason [club] match and missed the start of the season. He was cleared to play in the middle of March, but still isn't feeling 100 percent yet."
A pair of 6-3 juniors are back at middle hitter with Joe Wojciechowski and Blake Reeping. Both were starters last year.
The other two juniors in the Wildcats starting rotation are 6-0 outside hitter Charlie Owen, and 5-10 libero Alex Rutigliano.
"Charlie [Owen] is a newcomer to the varsity," Vosefski said. "He played JV last year and stepped into the varsity lineup at the start of this season for Tyler [Peffer]."
Latrobe entered the week No. 5 in the WPIAL Class AAA rankings. The Wildcats have a 3-1 record following Tuesday's victory against Penn Hills (1-4). No. 3 Norwin leads Section 3-AAA with a 4-0 mark after defeating No. 6 Plum, 3-1, Tuesday.
Latrobe is tied with Plum for second place at 3-1.
"Our only section loss was to Norwin," said Vosefski of a 3-1 setback to the Knights. "We went toe-to-toe in that match. All four games were hotly contested and won by narrow margins."
Latrobe has two more matches in the first half of section play. The Wildcats play host to Plum tonight, then travel to Hempfield Area on Tuesday.
"Plum's wins came against the younger teams in our section," Vosefski said. "[The Mustangs] are a scrappy bunch who never let the ball hit the floor. Those kind of teams scare me the most. We get a chance to see them for the first time this year. It's a big match for us."
Latrobe's goal every season is to win a section title.
"We have to be more consistent," Vosefski said. "We have to be more consistent in everything we do."