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Men's Volleyball 2017 Season Preview

Men's Volleyball 2017 Season Preview

2/1/2017 — As the Penn State Altoona men’s volleyball program heads into its fifth season as a varsity sport at Ivyside Park, there is no shortage of optimism surrounding the team’s prospects at a very successful 2017 season.

In 2016, just its fourth year since making the transition from a club sport to the ranks of the NCAA Division III, Penn State Altoona went 12-4 in the North Eastern Athletic Conference and 17-11 overall. The team’s breakout performance last spring produced some high hopes around the conference leading into this season, and the Lions were voted second in the 2017 NEAC Men’s Volleyball Preseason Poll.

While Penn State Altoona’s roster experienced several key losses in the offseason – most notably middle hitter Zack Graham, outside hitter Matt Huey, and libero Brandon Stitt – head coach Phil Peterman knows that he still has a strong core of returners from last year, and he believes that he has complemented that group with a talented group of newcomers.

"I truly believe that this current team has the ability to be better than last year’s team," said Peterman, the program’s fifth-year head coach. "They are so coachable and are working hard on a daily basis. We have even more weapons than we did last year."

Some of those weapons powering the Lions’ offense are senior outside hitter Jacob Byers (Level Green, PA/Penn Trafford) and sophomore outside hitter Bradley Colditz (Upper St. Clair, PA/Upper St. Clair). Byers has been one of Penn State Altoona’s most effective hitters in his collegiate career, and he is coming off of a season during which he ranked 10th in the NEAC in hitting percentage (.250) and 15th in kills per set (2.40), despite being limited to 19 matches. Colditz had a strong freshman season last year, when he was voted third team All-NEAC by finishing 12th in the league in kills (249), as well as 13th in kills per set (2.57) and hitting percentage (.231). Additionally, freshman outside hitter Brandon Arentz (Mount Wolf, PA/Northeastern) is expected to step in and help fill the void left by Huey’s departure.

"I could never replace an athlete like Matt Huey, and I wish he could have stuck around for his junior and senior years. However, Jake and Brad are emerging as our powerful swings," said Peterman. "Brandon is filling in Matt’s position and is becoming one of our go-to weapons, as well. He is stepping up the passing and hitting out of the back row, too. Brandon comes from a high school where he won multiple state championships, so he also brings a winning attitude and accepts nothing less on the court."

Helping to direct Penn State Altoona’s attack are sophomore setter Billy Smith (Pittsburgh, PA/Upper St. Clair) and freshman setter Tommy Kisick (Latrobe, PA/Greater Latrobe). Last year, Smith was both a second team All-NEAC pick and a second team All-Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference selection after he totaled 950 assists for an average of 9.41 assists per set. Kisick provides the Lions with a left-handed option as a setter, and he also has the ability to put up a strong block at the net and add a deceptive swing in the front row.

While the Lions’ offense is showing much promise this season, the cornerstone of Peterman’s squads is most often a strong defense. Leading the way in that department is sophomore libero Waldemar Rivera-Berrios (Toa Alta, P.R./Samuel Clemens), who will step in to fill the starting libero role after the graduation of Stitt. After finishing second on the team in digs per set (1.98) and third in total digs (178) last year, Rivera-Berrios will now anchor the Lions’ defensive efforts this season.

At the net, junior middle hitter Justin Bannister (Willow Hill, PA/Fannett-Metal) will continue to put up blocks to limit the opposing teams’ best hitters. Bannister finished 12th in the NEAC last season in blocks per set (0.64), as well as 13th in total blocks (63). His total of 24 solo blocks was the fourth-highest in the conference.

"Defense wins championships, and that’s what we work on daily. Wally is playing amazing in the back row because he is so confident and fast this year. He also has great anticipation," Peterman explained. "Justin is controlling the net in the front row, putting up great blocks. His timing is incredible, and he his shutting down the opponents’ swings."

Junior middle hitter Daniel Downs (Reading, PA/Daniel Boone) adds more height and blocking ability at the net to go along with Bannister. A first-year player at Penn State Altoona after transferring to the campus, Downs brings a combination of experience and athletic ability to the lineup.

"Dan is bringing more height and blocking to the front row," said Peterman. "He is shutting down opponents, as well as hitting overtop of them. He also brings some maturity and is always coaching up his teammates."

Peterman knows that, to be a successful volleyball team, a squad must seamlessly blend together its defense and offense to keep plays alive and create opportunities to score points. With the Lions’ combinations of depth, experience, and talent this year, he thinks that this season’s team may be the most complete unit that he has coached in the past five seasons.

"Men’s volleyball is so competitive and is mostly decided by a couple of points," Peterman said. "Our team philosophy is to constantly side out, and then create a dig and a kill to create small runs throughout the match. I want opposing teams to know that we are going to be a great passing team and run our offense down your throat by utilizing many different weapons."

Penn State Altoona men’s volleyball starts NEAC play on Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4, when it faces a trio of conference foes in the first of four NEAC crossover weekends. The Lions’ first home match is slated to occur on Saturday, February 25, when the team welcomes AMCC opponent Penn State Behrend and non-conference Southern Virginia University to the Adler Gym for a tri-match starting at 1:00 p.m. The NEAC championship tournament caps the season on Friday, April 14 and Saturday, April 15.

"The sky is the limit for this team," said Peterman. "The goal is to win a NEAC championship and make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament."

TAGS: men's volleyball