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Walsh boys volleyball team hoping to win title on home court

5/16/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

CUYAHOGA FALLS — Walsh Jesuit High School will host the State Boys Volleyball Tournament this season May 25-26, and Walsh boys volleyball head coach Connor McCluskey hopes his team will be able to use the home field advantage.

“With all the experience we have going down to the final four last year — and having a lot of guys returning and having success by knocking off the No. 1 team in the state — we believe in ourselves,” he said. “Our goal is to win a state championship on our home floor at Walsh Jesuit.”

Through May 13, the team had an 18-5 overall record, including a win over Mt. Vernon High School, the No. 1 team in the state, April 20.

Walsh currently is ranked No. 3 in the state, and the Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the Division II North region.

Last season, the team finished 14-11 and made it to the state final four. Five seniors graduated from that squad, but the Warriors are led by another strong group of upperclassmen this season.

“We have six seniors, one junior, one sophomore and one freshman that play regularly, McCluskey stated.

The seniors on this year’s team are Austin Seislove, Rob Russell, Anthony Collins, Michael Panning, Joe Sinopoli and Doug Smith.

“Rob Russell was first team all-region in 2012,” McCluskey said. “Austin Seislove is a senior captain and was second team all-region in 2012. Michael Panning was honorable mention all-region in 2012. Anthony Collins is a senior captain who plays a significant role on offense, and Joe Sinopoli and Doug Smith are role players that have impacted many matches in the back row.”

According to McCluskey, Panning has been a pleasant surprise for the team this season, while other seniors have played key roles in the team’s success.

“Michael Panning transitioned from setter to right side hitter, and he makes a very good impact on the right side. It’s hard to transition from one position to another, and he has done so very well,” the coach said. “Rob Russell has overcome a separated shoulder injury to become a dominant force as a middle blocker. He leads the team in blocks. Austin Seislove and Anthony Collins are playing great defense and leading the team as captains.”

The team’s only junior is middle blocker Connor Shaw.

“This is his second year on varsity but his first year as a starter,” the coach said. “He’s done a really good job in the middle blocking for us all season long. He’s come a long way from the beginning of the year.”

According to McCluskey, this year’s team features a pair of underclassmen who have stood out.

“Ross Russell, sophomore setter, is the ‘quarterback’ of the offense and is making great decisions to lead our offense,” he said. “Joey Piazza, freshman libero, is a solid foundation on our defense that really extends the plays when we need a point.”

McCluskey said the strength of this year’s team has been its defense.

“Not only are we getting a lot of solid blocking from the front row, we are getting a lot of digs in the back row, and they are really extending the plays when necessary,” he said. “As good as the season has gone so far, we still can get better at a lot of things. I still don’t think we’ve had that perfect match where everything is working all at the same time. When our blocking is off, our back row steps up. When our back row is off, our blocking and hitting has stepped up.”

This is the 11th year that McCluskey has been the team’s coach. His assistants are Kayln Suplicki, Andy Kerr and Emily Koeseter (junior varsity coach).

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