(Photo: Peters Township's Adam Ferraco, left, and Clayton Edwards block a shot against Central Catholic on April 28. Tri-State Sports & News Service.)
Another slow start, but another WPIAL Class AAA playoff berth.
That sums up the 2012 boys volleyball season for Peters Township High School.
"We've been traditionally slow starters and found ourselves having to win games down the stretch in order to just sneak into the playoffs," said Peters Township coach Chris Kelly, now in his sixth season. "I was hoping that wouldn't happen again this year, but that wasn't the case."
Despite losing three of its first four Section 1-AAA matches, Peters Township has rallied to claim its fourth consecutive WPIAL playoff berth. The Indians dropped 3-1 decisions to Baldwin and Bethel Park and were swept by Upper St. Clair early in the season.
Kelly's squad remained in the playoff picture, howver, with wins against Central Catholic and Canon-McMillan.
Peters Township's win against Canon-McMillan came two days after the Indians top player, Gabe Pritz, sustained a sprained ankle at the Fox Chapel Tournament. Pritz, a 6-foot-5 junior who is also an outstanding basketball player, was voted to the second team of the WPIAL Class AAA All-Star Team last season and is one of the top outside hitters in the WPIAL.
"We had four section matches and two non-league matches while Gabe was out of the lineup and we won five of the six," Kelly said. "We joked about sitting him for the rest of the season since we were winning without him. But having Gabe back in the lineup clearly makes us a much better team. He can play any position on the front line and also plays good defense. He also passes well for a big guy.
"It's great to have Gabe back in the lineup. One benefit of his absence was the playing time some of our other players picked up. We are a much deeper team now that Gabe is back."
Peters Township takes a 4-5 record into tonight's Section 1-AA finale at Canon-McMillan. That guarantees the Indians will finish no lower than fourth place in the section, and the top four finishers in each section qualify.
A tie for third place is a good possibility. Baldwin has a 5-4 record after defeating Central Catholic Tuesday, but is the underdog in tonight's match against Bethel Park, which has a chance to share the section title. The Black Hawks have an 8-1 record, while Upper St. Clair has concluded its section schedule with a 9-1 record.
"Our slow start was due in part to our graduation losses," Kelly said. "We had to replace both middle hitters and one outside hitter. The learning curve for the players who filled those positions was a little longer than I thought."
Pritz is one of five returning lettermen. The others are 5-10 senior setter Adam Ferraco, 5-5 senior defensive specialist Ryan Spangenberg and the Malencia twins, Chris, a 6-0 senior defensive specialist, and Matt, a 6-0 senior outside hitter. The Malencia twins are three-year lettermen.
"Chris was an outside hitter last year, but we needed him more in the back row this year," Kelly said. "Matt really stepped up his game when Gabe was out of the lineup. Adam is a good leader who does a great job of running our offense."
Matt Joswiak, a 6-2 senior, Clayton Edwards, a 6-2 junior, and Xander Browell, a 6-1 sophomore, have had the important task of taking over the middle hitting duties.
"Matt and Clayton began the season as our middles, but Clayton missed a couple weeks with illness and an injury," Kelly said. "Xander stepped in for Clayton and has done a fine job. Clayton is now back, which gives us depth in the middle."
Others in the starting rotation are 5-5 sophomore libero Christian Fink, 6-2 junior outside hitter Danny Scheurle and 5-10 senior opposite Matt John.
"Christian is the best libero I've seen in our section," Kelly said. "He's played that well."
The WPIAL Volleyball Steering Committee will meet Monday to determine the playoff brackets.
"This will be our fourth consecutive playoff appearance and we're still looking for a first-round win," Kelly said. "If we play like I know we can play, we can definitely win a playoff match."