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Zephs to defend title

It’s probably safe to say that the Whitehall boys volleyball team has some unfinished business.

They weren’t able to defend their league and district titles in 2020, so this year marks the first season where they’ll be entering the season as reigning champs.

That defense gets underway this Friday against Parkland.

However, their road to consecutive titles has suffered some huge losses with the graduation of Dylan McGinley and Alex Haydar, two valuable members who were instrumental in their championship season.

That leaves senior Hunter Pinkey as their lone returning starter. Nicholas Rex also logged a lot of varsity minutes as a serving specialist in 2019, but this year’s roster will see the emergence of some new faces moving into starting roles.

“This year’s team is something totally different,” said head coach George Cowitch. “We have a bunch of new guys on the court so it should be interesting.”

Pinkey will anchor their frontcourt as the middle hitter. His four years of experience should provide a strong presence both offensively and defensively. He’s been through those pressure-packed matches, most notably rising to the occasion in the third set against Parkland, his game-winning point earning them the district championship in 2019. He’s been a dynamic player for the Zephs, and Cowitch expects that to continue.

Pinkey will be joined in the middle by senior Connor Fenstermaker. Fenstermaker is no stranger to varsity volleyball, having a full season under his belt. He’s also another player who’s a devotee of club volleyball, expanding his game.

Junior Torrey Tyson will occupy the outside hitter position for the Zephs. He’s another varsity returnee who logged some varsity minutes for them in 2019. He’ll be joined as an OH by senior Matt Lisicky who has been a valuable varsity member in a number of different roles.

Devin Donatelli, a junior, will be lining up as an Opposite Hitter for this year’s squad, while Rex will serve as the team’s setter, a position he was set to fill before the season got shut down last year.

Junior Aiden Sommer will make his debut as the team’s libero this season, and Cowitch is excited to have him patrolling the floor.

“He’s a really good defender,” said Cowitch. “I’m excited to have him in the back row.”

The team’s defensive specialist will be senior Anthony Sabbagh, another player with varsity experience who’s had various roles for the Zephs.

Cowitch said that those players were set to start last season, and he believes they’re ready to fill their perspective roles. He also said that many of them committed to playing club volleyball during the summer, and that experience playing “high-level” competition should benefit them as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“So that’s been a positive,” said Cowitch.

They’ll also receive contributions from a number of other players. Cowitch said that he has a strong group of underclassmen who will make their own marks in the future. They’ll spend this season getting acclimated to varsity volleyball as they look to fill in where needed. Those players include juniors Gavin Fasolka, Anthony Gallo and Matthew Yadush; sophomores Gavin Kneller and George Nema, and freshmen Jack Kocher and Ethan Ringenberger, two players with a lot of potential.

Right now the team is still trying to gain an identity, said Cowitch. He said that they’re still trying to figure out who they are and they’re struggling with that a bit right now. They have a lot of new pieces and it’s going to take some time. That answer has been interrupted by shutdowns where they start to get into a flow, only to have it halted by COVID-19 protocols. He said it wasn’t ideal when they open with Parkland with that layoff. However, he said that the players have the tenacity and experience to address that issue

A big part of any successful season is leadership, and Cowitch said that Lisicky is a player who they can lean on in that role. He exudes a quiet confidence that teammates pick up on. Fenstermaker is another senior who’ll provide leadership among the new cast of starters.

Cowitch also understands that this season they’ll basically be on everyone’s radar as reigning champs. That begins against the Trojans who haven’t defeated them in at least eight matches. He knows the Trojans want nothing more than to hand the Zephyrs a loss to start the season. Still, he understands that May matters more than March, and he wants his team to be working every day toward reaching the postseason playing their best volleyball.

“It’s about how good can we be in May,” said Cowitch. “I think this team is built like that to be ready for that time.”