Otto-Eldred and Coudersport have long been the teams to beat in North Tier League volleyball.
Undefeated seasons, district titles, and state playoff wins have been accomplished by the two programs over the last several years.
But all of that could change in 2018.
Both schools are replacing many key contributors, several of which have gone on to play volleyball in college, and could take a backseat to some schools hungry to take the leap over their longtime rivals.
One of those teams is Port Allegany. The Gators have five seniors back from a team that went 10-6 last season that included a trip to the playoffs. They’ll have a new head coach this year in Pam Terrette, who will lead a varsity program for the first time in her coaching career.
“Our girls have played together for a long time,” Terrette said. “The five seniors and the two juniors have played club ball together as a team for as well. They are very familiar and trust each other on the court. They are working really hard on the teamwork and staying positive and supporting each other.”
Port A knocked off Coudersport in its season opener on Tuesday in five sets, possibly setting the tone for what’s to come in 2018.
Terrette has told her team that they have a golden opportunity to make a run towards the top of the league this year.
“That was a great win by our team to start the season,” she said. “I told them that with Otto losing a lot and Coudy losing a lot that this is their chance.”
The team is led by senior Erin Stauffer. The libero is closing in on the school record for career digs, but has taken on a new role heading into this season — much to the delight of her head coach.
“I pulled her from the libero position to have her play all the way around the court, Terrette said. “Because she’s hitting well and this is their chance, and their year, and I think the team is stronger with her playing all the way around. She was happy with it, and said ‘Whatever the team needs.’ That’s just one example of them pulling together as a team this year.”
Despite season-opening losses by both Coudersport and Otto-Eldred — which had one loss in all of 2017 — neither team is going to be knocked off the top of league without a fight.
The Falcons turn to a new coach, but a familiar face, to lead the team this year. Brian Green, who also serves as the Falcons’ girls varsity basketball coach, takes over for longtime head coach Patty Wilson.
Much like the challenge he will have to face with his basketball team in the winter, the Falcons are losing a lot of key parts from last year’s roster that went 17-5.
“It’s bad enough that you have a new coach that has to learn the ropes, but we only have one returning starter in Shaelyn Black,” Green said. “We have another senior letterwinner in Dana Dubots, but she didn’t start last year so we have five new starters.”
“Four of them are seeing the court for the first time ever at the varsity level,” he added. “When we substitute, we are substituting with sophomores and freshman, so we are very inexperienced.”
The Falcons will certainly lean heavily on Black in 2018. The 6-0 middle hitter recorded 119 kills, 36 aces, 54 blocks last year and was a force at the net.
Green is now hoping that by preaching volleyball fundamentals to his team, he can give Black a solid supporting cast.
“The biggest thing when you have inexperience is not beating ourselves and not shooting ourselves in the foot,” Green said. “We have 22 kids on the roster and we are constantly drilling them on just working on the fundamentals.”
Otto-Eldred, D-9 Class A champs last season, will have to replace nearly all of its top playmakers from 2017, including three players that have gone on to continue their volleyball careers in college. Camryn Thomas (Duquesne), Allison Cousins (Daemen) and Emily Smith (Mercyhurst Northeast) are the big losses from a Terrors team that picked up a PIAA playoff win and went 25-1 record last season.
Otto will rely on returning starter Harlee VanScoter in 2018 to help fill some of that void. The senior had 109 kills, 56 aces and 49 blocks in 2018 and will be the team’s setter for longtime head coach Jame Thomas.
Oswayo Valley and Smethport joined Port A, Coudy and Otto as NTL teams that made district playoffs last season.
Austin, Cameron County and Northern Potter round out the other North Tier schools fielding a volleyball team this fall.
A capsule look at the Pennsylvania teams in the Big 30:
Coach: Steve Daniels (1st year)
Roster: Morgan Tyger (sr., right side), Nikki Sayers (sr., setter), Brittany Rounsville (sr., libero), Alexis Huber (sr., outside hitter), Ashton Himes (sr., outside hitter), Sarie Yohe (jr., middle hitter), Lindsey Wind (jr., defensive specialist), Erica Marshall (jr., outside hitter), Laney Kahle (jr., setter), Leah Faulkner (so., libero), Alex Asp (so., middle hitter)
From the coach: “This team is going to rely on a mix of senior leadership and incoming youth at certain positions. I am looking forward to the 2018 season and the challenging schedule ahead of us.”
Coach: Brock Wennin (2nd year, 1-15)
Roster: Taylor Britton (sr., OH), Ashlea Burgett (sr., opposite), Kaitlyn Burgett (sr., OH/libero), Alvia McKimm (sr., setter), Kelsie Reed (sr., MH), Kaelee Bresslin (so., OH), Morgan Lorenzo (so., OH), Reggie Goodrow (so., setter/opposite), Tapanga Allison (so., setter/opposite), Hailey Hilfiger (so., MH), Mallory McKimm (so., MH)
From the coach: “With some returning seniors and a group of talented and dedicated sophomores, we should have reason to be optimistic. This should be a turnaround year for our program.”
Coach: Brian Green (1st year)
Postseason: Keystone (W, 3-0, D-9 Class A first round), Ridgway (W, 3-1, D-9 Class A quarterfinals), A-C Valley (L, 3-1, D-9 Class A semifinals),
Roster: Shaelyn Black (6-0, sr., MH, 119 kills, 36 aces, 54 blocks), Dana Dubots (5-7, sr., DS, 6 kills, 14 aces), Erica Williams (5-8, sr., RS), Hope Daisley (5-7, jr., OH), Hannah Elenchin (5-7, jr., RS), Mikayla Gunn (5-7, jr., OH), Claudia Miller (5-4, jr., libero), Lauren Stimaker (5-7, jr., setter), Sarah Atherholt (5-10, so., MH), Bella Butler (5-7, so.,OH), Haley Dubots (5-4, so., libero), Mikayla Kavounas (5-6, so., setter), Addie Myers (5-10, so., MH), Paige Watson (5-8, so., OH)
From the coach: (See preview story)
Postseason: North Clarion (L, 3-1, D-9 Class A first round)
Coach: Jame Thomas (6th year, 77-30)
Postseason: Cranberry (W, 3-0, D-9 Class A quarterfinals), Clarion (W, 3-0, D-9 Class A semifinals), A-C Valley (W, 3-1, D-9 Class A title game), Frazier (W, 3-1, PIAA Class A first round), Maplewood (L, 3-0, PIAA Class A quarterfinals)
Roster: Harlee VanScoter (5-9 sr., OH 109 kills, 56 aces, 49 blocks), Britney Greeley (sr, setter), Lauren Cousins (sr., RS), Veronica Benini (sr., OH), Jadelyn Spinney (jr., MH), Mackenzie Wilcox (jr., libero), Emilie Reitler (jr., setter), Haley Kennedy (jr., DS), Kala Cousins (jr., OH), Reilly Raught (so., MH), Emmalee Sheeler (so., MH)
From the coach: “The team shows a willingness to learn.”
Coach: Pam Terrette (1st year)
Postseason: Cranberry (L, 3-0, D-9 Class A first round)
Roster: Kierra Keck (hitter), Kayla Pesock (hitter), Jenna Sprankle (setter), Erin Stauffer (libero), Emi Tanaka (hitter), Kalyn Naylor (hitter), Maleah Daniels (hitter), Taylor Emerson (hitter), Madison Preston (setter)
From the coach: (See preview story)
Postseason: Johnsonburg (L, 3-2, D-9 Class A first round)
Roster: Emily Gustafson (sr., MH), Willow Lapp (sr., OS), Mattelle Neely (sr., opposite), MyKayla Deyarmin (jr., setter), Alexis Shall (jr., MH/libero), Morgan Himes (jr., opposite), Erin Herzog (jr., OH/middle), Chloe Costa (so., libero)