FALLS TWP. – Pennsbury might have had a slew of players depart the boys volleyball ranks last year though you can hardly call 2017 a rebuilding campaign.
Friday afternoon (May 5) at home, the Falcons blanked Council Rock South, 3-0, to push their record to 10-0, in the Suburban One League National Conference, 12-1, overall. Truth is Pennsbury hasn’t lost a game in the SOL this season, currently marked at 30-0 on the season.
You’d never know this is a team that returned only one starter – senior outside hitter Sean Sweeney – while witnessing the departures of All-SOL National standouts setter Kevin Killoran, middle hitter Kenny Hickman and libero Brad Edwards.
“That’s what happens when you have a good young class and you have a great JV coach,” said Falcons head coach Justin Fee. “My JV coach – Rick Errico – runs things like I would run it down there and I completely trust him.
“He teaches them the second they walk in the gym.
“He’s a great starter coach – gives them a good foundation and passes them on to me ready to play.”
Together, Errico and fee are trying to get the Falcons back to the point where they make it to states every year. While Pennsbury made it to states last year, they exited after a first-round loss to Penn Manor. The year before, the Falcons failed to make states.
“All the good programs in the state, they don’t have down year,” said Fee. “We’ve had two down years in a row – which is disappointing. All the best teams in Pennsylvania, they might have a new group of kids but they’re still firing on all cylinders.
“We’re trying to get back to that.”
While Sweeney might be the only returning senior starter, he’s not the only 12th-grader in the lineup. Outside hitter Louie Bavas returned with a vengeance this year after working on his game significantly in the offseason.
“He put in a lot of work this offseason and really took the coaching really well,” said Fee. “He’s one of our superstars this year.
“Him and Sean (Sweeney) are neck and neck for the most skills on our team.
“He’s a really athletic and physical kid and he can run a lot of combination plays. He plays in a bunch of different sets so he’s been a really big asset this year.”
Bavas isn’t the only new-and-improved player at Pennsbury. Junior Charlie Bluestein – who played at defensive specialist last year – stepped into the libero’s role this season.
“From the very beginning of the season, he’s been rolling,” said Sweeney. “His progression has been very solid.”
“In terms of what he’s actually doing for the team this season, it’s a lot more. And he’s completely killed it.”
Sophomore Any Delworth, who stepped up in the postseason for Killoran last year when he experienced problems with his knees, has filled the setter’s role on a full-time basis this season.
“Our setter got hurt in our last league game and he came in for Kevin (Killoran),” said Sweeney.
“But it’s a big progression when you become a permanent starter and he’s done well.”
In truth, the only other player that returned to the lineup with any varsity experience was junior Brett Garretson, an outside hitter who plays on the back line.
Everyone else including middle hitters Dan Quay, Marshall Nixon and Adam Hludzinski along with opposite Justin Sadley are all new to the varsity game.
“Danny Quay didn’t start last year but this year, he’s been a monster,” said Sweeney.
“We have a lot of young guys so there was a need for a leader. These guys are great – they are super-smart, awesome and they’re very coachable. They’ve learned everything super-quickly.”
“It’s been great – we’ve been very successful so far.”
Like the rest of their opponents in the SOL, the Falcons dispatched Council Rock South Friday on their home court, 3-0, winning 25-11, 25-17 and 25-15.
Bavas – who has gotten some serious looks from area college volleyball programs – led the way with 13 kills. He added a pair of digs and a .429 hitting percentage to his performance.
In limited action, Sweeney came through with six kills and a pair of digs. Bluestein added 10 digs, three assists and an ace. Delworth stepped up with a pair of kills, 28 assists, a dig and two blocks. From the back line, Garretson added a kill, five aces and a pair of digs.
For his part, Nixon came through with a block, four kills and an .800 hitting percentage. Hludzinsky also had four kills to go with an ace and one block.
Pennsbury has just two matches left in the regular season, both against SOL foes. The Falcons face CR North Monday, May 8 on the Indians’ home court before finishing the season at home May 1o at home against William Tennent.
District 1 playoffs begin May 16 though Pennsbury should earn a first-round bye which pushes the opening date to May 18. Last year the Falcons toppled Avon Grove in the quarters before falling to 2016 champion Pennridge in the semis. They came back to beat CB West in five sets to finish third in the district.
Once again, the goal is to make states, says Fee.
“It’ll be a complete disaster/failure if we don’t get back to states this year,” the coach said. “That’s our goal every year – to win the league, win the district, make a run at states and try to win that championship
“It might have been a far-fetched goal in 2015 and maybe even a little bit of s stretch in 2016 but I see us starting to creep back to the old Pennsbury but we’re still not there yet.
“There’s been years where we didn’t drop a league game three, four years in a row.
The Falcons’ only loss this season was to Northeastern in the Bobcat Invitational where they placed fourth. Pennsbury also placed in the Fuller Classic and was the runner-up in the Dallastown Tournament.
TOP PHOTO: Pennsbury senior Adam Hludzinski goes up for the kill in 3-0 shutout win over Council Rock South Friday, May 5 at the Falcons’ Nest. Pennsbury is 30-0 in sets against Suburban One National League foes. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)