After its first season of competition as an NCAA Division III varsity sport, the Penn State Altoona men's volleyball program will be looking to make strides in its second year.
While the squad consists largely of first-year players, coach Phil Peterman thinks that his roster has what it takes to make big improvements from last year.
"Having one year as a varsity team under our belts, our returners are already better prepared and know what to expect from their opponents," Peterman said. "I truly believe that we will match up well with all of the other Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference teams and give the top teams a run for their money this upcoming season."
The Lions lost 10 players from last year's 15-man roster, but Peterman feels confident in his returners' abilities to step up, as well as the skills and the poise of his newcomers.
One of Peterman's key returners is sophomore starting setter Branden McGarvey (Altoona), who will again be tasked with running the offense. McGarvey played in all of Penn State Altoona's 30 matches in 2013, averaging 7.21 assists per set and earning an AMCC Player of the Week award along the way.
Sophomore Brandon Stitt (Altoona) will be called on to anchor the Lions' defense by assuming the role of starting libero after being utilized mainly as a defensive specialist last season. Stitt played in all 30 matches for the team in 2013 and finished fourth on the squad in digs with 118. Fellow sophomore Brandon Stangl will also see increased playing time, helping out defensively in the back row.
Senior outside hitter Daniel Reilly will also be asked to step into a more prominent role this season. Last season, Reilly finished third on the team in both kills (118, 1.3 kills per set) and total blocks (35, 0.38 blocks per set), and the Lions will look for him to increase his production in those areas this year. Sophomore outside hitter Christopher Wisbeski will also be counted on to step up on the outside, while continuing to help out with his service game after leading the team with 12 aces last year.
The eight other players on Penn State Altoona's roster are newcomers. Peterman is excited about what this group adds to the team, particularly an increase in height across the court.
"I feel that last year we were in every match, but at times we were just not tall enough," he said. "These new freshmen bring a lot of height to the team and should help to even up the matchups across the net. I plan on running a two setter offense out of the back row so that we have consistent height in the front row at all times."
Peterman expects several newcomers to see regular playing time from the start of the season. Freshman outside hitter Jacob Byers brings a powerful swing to the outside, while fellow freshman outside hitter Matthew Hester has a left-handed swing and strong blocking skills. Senior middle hitter Daniel Roberts (Altoona) and sophomore middle/outside hitter Zack Graham bring a combination of leaping ability and power to the middle of the net, and freshman outside hitter Doug Schriner adds height to the outside positions. Freshman setter Andy Panizzi runs the offense with a good tempo and will be a second setter for the squad.
Beginning in 2015, the Lions men's volleyball program will begin competition as an associate member of the North Eastern Athletic Conference. While the team will concentrate on out-dueling its AMCC opponents this year, it will also look forward to matchups with future NEAC foes Cazenovia College, Keuka College, Lancaster Bible College and Wells College during its 2014 schedule. With improvements at every position, both in terms of skillsets and overall athleticism, Peterman is excited with his team's potential for 2014 and beyond as it transitions into the NEAC.
"I look forward to seeing what the NEAC teams have to offer this season when we play them as non-conference opponents," Peterman said. "Last year, we played three teams from the NEAC in a total of four matches. We went 3-1 against them, and beat their conference champion [Keuka]."
Penn State Altoona men's volleyball started its season Sunday, falling to AMCC opponent Medaille in the Adler Gym.