The adage that tradition does not graduate holds true at Bethel Park High School. For no matter how many seniors graduate, the boys’ volleyball team expects to contend for WPIAL championships annually.
This year, with just three seniors on the roster and only two returning starters, the Hawks are dominating the nets. They are undefeated in Section 1 action and are ranked No. 3 among Class AAA clubs behind North Allegheny and Butler, which they defeated in last weekend’s Plum Tournament. The Hawks are also coming off championships in that event as well as the Fox Chapel Tournament.
“Our goals,” said head coach Zach Smith, “are always very lofty. We want to be playing our very best volleyball when it matters at the end of the season. We do that, then we will be where we want and need to be.”
While the Hawks still have five section matches remaining, beginning with a trip to Peters Township on April 26, they have battled some of the top teams in the state. In addition to beating Butler, the Hawks defeated Bishop Guilfoyle before besting Deer Lakes, 25-12, for the title at the Plum Tournament.
“Tournaments, for us, are an opportunity to play different teams and levels of play, but we use it as a teaching opportunity and try to have as much fun as we can,” Smith said.
At Fox Chapel, the Hawks had plenty of fun because they upended Central York, the defending state champion, 27-25, to capture the championship. In the 11-team tournament, which also featured Penn-Trafford, Fort Leboeuf and the Foxes among others, BP posted an 11-2 record.
“It was definitely a tough tournament,” Smith said. “We did well.”
Of the win against Central York, he added, “It took all that we had to get that victory. It was a combination of putting things together, a great team effort and some luck because (Central York) is a very talented team, one of the best in the state.”
BP has one of the best programs in the WPIAL. They have won seven section titles in the past seven seasons and have posted a 79-3 record during that stretch. They are undefeated this spring and have swept all their section matches, 3-0, including last week’s victory against Central Catholic, 25-16, 25-10, 25-16.
Grant Jasante led the way against the Vikings with 10 kills and three blocks. The middle hitter is one of three seniors on the club along with Dylan Schanck (5 kills, 2 blocks) and Jake Cunningham (8 kills, 2 blocks).
Smith is pleased with the leadership his seniors have displayed.
“They have not only contributed experience but they have supplied the team with consistency in both practices and in games,” Smith said. “All three are team players.
“When you have an inexperienced team having seniors like that makes up for a lot of problems,” he continued. “They have come through when we have needed them.”
Max Cooley has come through for the Hawks consistently. In fact, the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association named him one of its Players of the Week in Class AAA. The junior outside hitter shares the honor this week with Norwin’s Jake Williams.
In addition to the three seniors, Cooley, who had eight kills against Central, provides the Hawks with a strong front line of hitters that also includes juniors Mason Bussard and Josh Sprandle. Sophomores Tyler Simpson and Austin Cortopassi are also outside hitters for the Hawks.
“One of the team’s strengths is our balance,” Smith said. “That and having so many hitters makes us difficult to stop. We get a whole lot of help from different people every match.”
Sophomores Tony Boff, Josh Capristo and Kevin Kerr help the Hawks in the critical positions of libero, defensive specialist and setter respectively. Sophomores Sebe DiPrampero, Alex Brownfield and Vinny Debald are also contributors to the squad.
“We don’t have too much experience,” said Smith, “but we are growing and learning together. As the year goes on, we are figuring out what we are doing and getting comfortable. The fact that we are close as a team is a real plus for us.”