Continuity counts for Deer Lakes volleyball team
Zak Roberts knows about the success of the Deer Lakes boys volleyball program. He played for the Lancers in high school and watched his younger brothers in the following years.
As Deer Lakes’ new coach, it’s now Roberts’ responsibility to continue that success. He sees no reason for it to stop: Deer Lakes is seeking its 10th consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance.
“I’d like to make a splash, at least in the section,” Roberts said. “I think we have a good chance at battling for the section. I think we have a very well-rounded team. I just hope we can make a name for ourselves in this first year.”
Roberts, a 2009 Deer Lakes graduate, was hired in February after longtime coach Rick Tatrn resigned amid controversy last season after 44 years with Deer Lakes.
The late hire didn’t hurt Roberts. He knew many of the players and parents from watching his younger brothers: Nick, now a sophomore at Robert Morris, and Jake, a senior on Deer Lakes’ roster.
As a new coach, Roberts said he made a few changes to the team’s blocking schemes and defensive positioning. Some of the ideas came from his days of playing as a middle hitter, and others from his time coaching. After high school, Roberts played for and helped coach the Kent State men’s club volleyball team and was also a volunteer assistant for the Kent State women’s varsity volleyball team.
“I think along the way I developed some of my own strategies that I think work best,” Roberts said. “Not that anyone’s right or anyone’s wrong, but it’s an approach I like to bring to the game. I’m trying to pass that on now.”
Deer Lakes returns virtually all of its experience from last season, when the Lancers advanced to the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals. Jake Roberts, a senior outside hitter, and junior setter Josh Noble were first-team all-section picks last season. Senior libero Brandon Philistine and junior middle hitter Mark Kopinski made the second team.
Senior Hunter Signorella and juniors Kaleb Jewell and Adam Rothrauff also lend experience, and Roberts expects freshmen Dan Hutchinson and Tyler Osselborn to get playing time this season.
Deer Lakes opened its season Tuesday with a 3-0 nonsection loss to Shaler.
“(The players) know what they’re capable of, which helps,” Zak Roberts said. “They know how competitive the section is this year, especially with how it always has been. I think we all have the same expectations in mind. The first step is to battle for the section. We’ll assess where we are at that point and look to move forward.”
Plum is breaking in a coach of its own. Rick Peterson took over for Mike Larko Jr.
Eight experienced seniors, including all-WPIAL hitter Khaynen Yocca, return for Plum. The Mustangs lost to Bethel Park in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last season but are looking for their first section title since 2005.
“The seniors have a legacy they want to leave,” Peterson said. “There is no next year. They can put their stamp on this program.”
For Fox Chapel to continue its 12-year run of WPIAL playoff appearances, the Foxes will need to replace four starters from last season, when they reached the WPIAL semifinals.
Max Depellegrini, Andrew Tublin and Jaysen Zaleski return as starters, and three other players saw varsity time last season. Fox Chapel began the season by winning the North Allegheny tournament over the weekend before beating Pine-Richland in straight sets Monday.
“All the key players have been playing with each other for a good bit of time now,” coach Phil O’Keefe said. “This season, the starting lineup is set, as opposed to the last several years where many different lineups were used. How these players come together as a team, and not seven individuals, will be the key to our success.”