CRESSON, Pa. – On the strength of five returning starters and one additional letterwinner, Somerset edged out Forest Hills in Thursday’s Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference volleyball coaches’ poll conducted by The Tribune-Democrat during the media day event at Mount Aloysius College.
The Golden Eagles, who went 16-4 and 13-3 in the LHAC in 2021, earned six first-place votes and garnered 160 points, three more than Forest Hills.
“It’s a goal for us,” Somerset senior middle hitter Shawna Walker said of possibly winning her school’s first LHAC crown since 2016. “We have really good chemistry together. Most of our starting lineup is seniors, so I think we’ll be good this season.”
Somerset will be led by first-year coach Scott Shirley. The Golden Eagles fell in the 2021 District 5-6 Class 3A championship match to Hollidaysburg.
“He really pushes us,” Walker said.
With an array of capable hitters, the Golden Eagles are working to shore up their back row.
“We have a really good front row,” Walker said. “Right now, we’re working on fixing our back row to get a little bit stronger. I think we should be good.”
Forest Hills, the 2020 LHAC champion, netted four first-place votes and 157 points. With only one senior on the roster, the Rangers are brimming with young talent. Sophomore outside hitter Mya Colosimo earned a spot on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-state team in 2021 after totaling 423 kills, 326 digs and 54 aces.
“We did lose a couple pieces, but a lot of our freshmen coming up are doing really well,” Colosimo said. “They’re really getting up to speed with the higher pace.
“They’re catching on really quick. We have a young team, which I think is good because we’re building it up. We’re going to have a good team for years to come because we’re all young.”
In order, Central Cambria, defending champion Bedford (one first-place vote), Chestnut Ridge (two first-place votes), Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, Richland, Westmont Hilltop, Bishop McCort Catholic, Bishop Carroll Catholic, Penn Cambria, Central and Greater Johnstown rounded out the 13-team league.
Next season, the rugged conference will add Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Bellwood-Antis, Clearfield, Hollidaysburg, Huntingdon, Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and Tyrone to the mix.
“Philipsburg-Osceola has a long-standing reputation for year after year having successful seasons,” Forest Hills coach Cassie Layman said. “Hollidaysburg is a bigger school and always has a solid squad. These two squads and the others will add to an already tough conference.”
Central Cambria advanced to the District 6 Class 2A title match, but fell to 2020 PIAA finalist Philipsburg-Osceola.
The Red Devils bring back two formidable hitters in seniors Mikalah Kim and Alli Malay, a Pitt-Johnstown commit.
“We’re definitely pretty excited considering we only have two starters coming back,” said Malay, who compiled 197 336 digs, 197 kills, 47 aces and 44 blocks in 2021 at outside hitter.
“We’re all trying to work together right now in getting the new girls comfortable with playing against better competition. We’re just trying to go game by game and go through the season that way.”
Central Cambria, which won three straight LHAC titles from 2017-19, finished No. 7 in the 2021 PVCA Class 2A state poll.
Bedford was picked to finish fourth after it edged Bishop Guilfoyle in five sets for its first LHAC crown in 2021. The Bisons bring back a solid nucleus from that championship squad that won their first District 5 title since 1983.
“We want to do the same thing we did last year,” said Bedford senior middle hitter Bailey Stahlman, who racked up 300 kills and 80 blocks in 2021. We still have talented girls coming up that we’re practicing with now and helping them get better.”
Chestnut Ridge finished fifth in the preseason poll. The Lions, under the direction of first-year coach Kayla Margaret, bring back six starters and nine letterwinners.
“Girls are really going to fight for spots this year,” said Chestnut Ridge senior middle hitter Belle Bosch, an all-state selection in 2021 after she totaled 417 kills, 247 digs and 174 blocks. “We have some pretty talent coming up, so I’m really excited.“
Bishop Guilfoyle lost the past two LHAC title matches, but won a 2021 District 6 Class 1A crown. The Marauders finished 2021 ranked No. 6 in the state.
Bishop McCort returns six starters in 2022 and will be hoping to climb the league standings.
“We only lost one senior from last year,” Bishop McCort senior middle hitter Bria Bair said. “Most of our whole team is coming back. What’s good about us is we’re all super-close and really good friends outside of volleyball, so hopefully that carries into the season. We might surprise a few teams this year. We’re not a very big team, but we have a lot of quick and athletic girls.”
Jake Oswalt is a copy editor for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TheWizOfOz11.