Elco lines up with new offensive set
It's not unusual for coaches to tinker with game plans. But when a new ideology is actually an old one, to the point where none of your players have ever tried it at the varsity level, and you try it out just as the season opens well, that would be like the football team scrapping a 4-3 for a 3-4 just before kickoff of Week 1.
But that's exactly what Elco head coach Paul Dissinger did with his Raiders on the volleyball court. Dissinger — the only coach the girls' program has ever known as it begins its 10th season — started camp in August with a 4-2, in part to take some heat off freshman setter Maddie Stone.
The Raiders had their engine scrapped with the graduation losses of Jillian Baker, Andria Harpold and Emily Hauck — all starters and key contributors during the past three, and in some cases, four, seasons. Enormous gaps to plug on the court.
But the 4-2, Dissinger found, wasn't flowing in practice or scrimmages.
"We just wanted to go 4-2 to make her (Stone) comfortable," Dissinger said. "So we tried it but we weren't getting the sets we needed, and our hitters were getting frustrated."
So just as the season was about to open last week against Lititz Christian, Dissinger reverted to a 5-1, a set he hadn't used at Elco since 2010, when the oldest of his current crop were barely junior high school age.
"We went through it (the 5-1) in practice on Wednesday and Thursday of last week and off we went," Dissinger said. "There were some holes in coverage — which we're working through now — and moments of confusion against Lititz Christian, which you would expect. But all in all, it went well. We ran right with them.
"By the time we hit the Pine Grove tournament (the Raiders split two sets with the hosts), the offense was moving the way we wanted it to."
The Raiders have yet to win a match but Stone has delivered, with better than 90 assists three matches into the season. The primary beneficiary has been senior outside hitter Chandelle Keller, who has been piling up the kills. Alexi Rogers provides veteran support at middle hitter.
The Raiders have their mojo back by using an attack not tried in five years.
"A few girls had played it at club, so they had been exposed to it," Dissinger said, "but not in high school and not at Elco. It was not a total reinvention of the wheel. But we had some who had no experience running it. We tailored it to our needs."
Searching for that intangible labeled as "flow", Dissinger changed things up with an eye on getting back to the District 3 Class AA playoffs for a fourth straight season — but now having to do it without those key graduated players. His instincts led him to do so. His gut also tells him it was the right move.
"I would really like to reach out for the (L-L) Section Three title again," he said. "(Tuesday night) was a bit of a setback, the (3-2) loss to Cocalico. They're the team we really want to beat. But our whole section got better. It's where we'd like to be.
"I'd like to break through at districts. We've always been a team more designed for the regular season. And we haven't had a ton of depth, once you get past the first six or seven kids. By the time you get there, you need multiple offensive weapons. I feel we've got that."
2014: 12-8, 8-2 L-L Section Three
Head coach: Paul Dissinger
Top returnees: Chandelle Keller, Sr., OH; Alexi Rogers, Sr., MH.
Key losses: Andria Harpold, Jillian Baker, Emily Hauck.
Outlook: Led by Keller, a two-time District 3 all-star and former Section Three MVP, the Raiders will compete. Graduation losses must be plugged but are not terminal. Plenty of talent remains in Myerstown for the Raiders to make noise; the stated goal of catching Section Three favorite Cocalico took a hit with an opening-week loss to the Eagles, in five sets.
2014: 1-15, 0-10 L-L Section Three
Head coach: Rodney Weber
Top returnees: Katie Hossler, Sr., OH; Allison Shuey, Sr., OH.
Key losses: none.
Outlook: The Vikings matched their 2014 win total with an opening-night victory against Lebanon on Tuesday. Weber is stressing on-court chemistry and is excited about his squad turning the corner and getting back to competitiveness, and that first win provides a step in that direction.
2014: 5-12, 4-6 L-L Section Three
Head coach: Jeff Albright
Top returnees: Miranda Beard, Sr., OH; Pam Bencosme, Sr., OH.
Key losses: Kayla Aponte; Shayla Aponte; Alicia Hatos; Melissa tes.
Outlook: Because of graduation losses the Cedars are young, but Albright has pieces he can mold here. Beard and Bencosme are the team leaders, on-court and off, with Allie Bender (sr.) arriving to play the middle. Sharlyn Yambo will take over at setter. If it manages to come together as Albright hopes, Lebanon could make a push toward the upper half in Section Three.
2014: 8-9, 6-6 L-L Section One
Head coach: Chad Nolen
Top returnees: Caitlynn Albright, Sr., OH; Grace Miller, soph., OH; Jordyn Boyer, sr., OH.
Key losses: Logan Reedy, Titi Tran, Sam Smith, Abby Hower.
Outlook: Patience. With only four returning players and seven who are new to varsity ball, the Falcons might struggle to make an impact on the Section One race. The squad dropped its opener to Palmyra and a second match to Manheim Township, clubs with considerably more depth and experience.
New Covenant Christian/Lebanon Catholic
2014: 11-9, 7-4 CCAC
Head coach: Chris Light
Top returnees: Briana Light (NCCS), jr., setter; Danielle Rudy (NCCS), jr., OH.
Key losses: Jennie Lingle, Haley Whitmer, Allison Burnellie, Miranda Martin, Abbie Litman.
Outlook: Guarded. The co-op was gutted by graduation, returning just two varsity players this season. The Flames dropped the season opener 3-0 to a solid Lititz Christian squad; the club will need a few more matches to build some chemistry with all the new pieces. Light is optimistic this will happen.
2014: 20-2, 16-0 MPC Colonial, Mid Penn division and conference champions, District 3 Class AAA qualifier
Head coach: Clark Sheaffer
Top returnees: Molly Gundermann Sr., MH; Josie Stovall, Sr., (injured in 2014), MB/OH; Jayden Swann, Sr., Lib; Sam Houser, Sr., utility; Melanie Sheaffer, jr., OH; Kiersten West, soph., setter.
Key losses: Monica Sheaffer, MB, 2014 MPC MVP.
Outlook: 3-0 start this season. Depth and players who can do a lot of different things. With the pantry still loaded, the Cougars are running an aggressive offense. "Still things to work on, but it looks pretty promising," Sheaffer said. "When you run a quick attack, it's a high-risk offense and can cause some mistakes. So we have some things we still have to clean up." Has the look of a contender for MPC honors, and beyond.