CLARKS SUMMIT — The Abington Heights girls volleyball team may not have many players returning with a lot of varsity experience, but that hasn’t dampened the group’s enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
The squad is also under the leadership of a new coach.
Brandon Libro, 25, who previously served as an assistant for the Pocono Mountain East boys volleyball team and head coach of that school’s junior high girls team, takes over the reins of the Lady Comets’ program.
Senior Victoria Cole is expected to be a starting middle hitter; senior Emily Phillips, who returns after a two-year absence, will likely start as a defensive specialist; senior Katherine Sheeran will be a starting serving specialist, junior Adele Hollander will be the starting libero, junior Gianna Toth will be the starting setter, junior Elif Onat will be a starting outside hitter, and junior Alexis Greene will contribute as a defensive specialist.
“We’re a very young team this year,” Libro said. “Both our captains — Toth and Hollander — are juniors. These girls are going to be competitive for years to come.”
All six starters — Emma Baker (middle hitter), Paris Koehler (outside hitter), April Sokalsky (outside/middle hitter), Jasmine McDuffie (setter), Cassie Ksiazek (setter), and Ashley DeRiso (libero/defensive specialist) — graduated leaving many voids for the Lady Comets to fill.
“We had a really strong team last year with our starting six,” Toth said. “We lost all of them, but I think we learned to replicate what they did and form a really strong bond with all the new girls.”
Toth believes that Libro will help each player maximize their potential.
“He was a lot tougher during the first three days of tryouts than our last coach, but I think it’s going to work out for the better and make us stronger,” she said.
Toth also feels there is a different energy around the program this season.
“Having the new coach and a bunch of new girls creates a whole new feel in the gym,” she said. “We all have to learn about each other. I think our biggest strength is going to have to be communication. We have to work on being able to talk to each other on and off the court.”
Abington Heights finished last season with a 15-3 Lackawanna League record last season and defeated Western Wayne in the first round of the District 2-4 Class 3A playoffs, the school’s first district win since 2012.
Libro hopes the returning players can continue the winning tradition.
“All these girls saw that last year and they know what the team is capable of doing,” he said. “We return one of our assistant coaches, Mikayla Stange, so there is some continuity there. They’re working hard and are motivated to build off that success while maintaining realistic expectations that we did lose all our starters.”
The first-year coach also plans to focus on developing responsible student-athletes.
“I’m very passionate about the sport and I’m excited to share what I know,” Libro said. “Our mission at Abington Heights is not just to help the students develop athletically, but also to build positive character traits. We have character development sessions once a week where we help them learn about integrity, selflessness and collaboration, and what that can do for them on the court.”
While Abington Heights doesn’t have many players with a lot of height throughout its lineup, Hollander believes that may play to their advantage.
“We’re all just about the same height, so I think the fact that we’re all working together and trying new positions is helping us out,” she said.
Abington Heights will open its season at 5 p.m. Aug. 31 at Blue Ridge.
“We’re a very technically sound team,” Libro said. “Our setter has three years of experience and I can’t speak highly enough of our starting libero, she’s a very powerful hitter and one of our best passers.”