Seneca Valley out to win state title, put Pennsylvania on national stage

By Walter Villa

Pennsylvania is home to the nation’s top women’s college volleyball program. Yet when it comes to girls’ high school volleyball, the state has no teams in the POWERADE FAB 50 and none among the 19 listed as “on the bubble” in last week’s rankings.

Parkland (Allentown, Pa.), Hempfield (Landisville, Pa.), State College (State College, Pa.) and Seneca Valley (Harmony, Pa.) are the top four teams in Pennsylvania’s Class AAA, the largest-enrollment grouping.

Karen Martini, who coaches Seneca Valley, said those four schools all have talent, but since few teams venture away from home to play out-of-state tournaments, there is little notoriety on a national basis.

Martini started to remedy that problem late last month, when she took her team to Chicago for the Asics Challenge. The Raiders finished 15th out of 24 teams, a respectable showing considering there were nine FAB 50 schools in the field.

“I was surprised we did that well on our first time there,” Martini said. “When I started researching all the teams and the national rankings, I was like, ‘Whew, did I get myself in over my head?’ ”

The Raiders did just fine, beating Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) in three sets and also defeating Martin County (Stuart, Fla.), which entered the tournament ranked 31st in the FAB 50.

Martini said she hopes Penn State’s four straight national titles will encourage more Pennsylvania girls to play volleyball. But, as it stands, of the 17 players on PSU’s roster, only one, redshirt freshman Maggie Harding, is from Pennsylvania. Harding, who is from State College, is a reserve defensive specialist.

Seneca Valley has a player likely headed to Penn State for 2012 – but not for volleyball. Meghan Drambel, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter with a 4.0 grade-point average, is interested in PSU for academics only.

Drambel is one of three Raiders players to make All-State last season. The others are Cate Seman, a 6-0 outside hitter who has committed to Rhode Island; and Alex Karika, a 5-11 setter who has interest from Navy, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Seniors Emma Carter (6-1 middle blocker) and Laura Thomas (5-9 right-side hitter/setter) will likely be Division II recruits, Martini said.

The Raiders’ other two regulars are both sophomores: 6-0 Abbie Trzeciak and 5-9 Angela Seman, who is Cate’s sister.

But the nucleus of the team – Cate Seman, Karika and Drambel – have all played together since seventh grade.

As sophomores, they led Seneca Valley to fifth place at state. Last season, they finished third, which is the best showing in school history.

“This year, we want to make history,” said Martini, who is in her fifth year as the program’s coach.

“If ever I had a group that had the motivation and drive to win state, it’s this one. They aren’t overconfident, but they have been working toward this for a long time.”

Playing for a good cause

Southwest (Miami, Fla.) dedicated last Tuesday’s home match against Lourdes Academy (Miami, Fla.) to Pini Perez, 52, the mother of their starting setter, Casey Perez.

Pini is battling breast cancer. The disease, which causes more than 450,000 deaths per year worldwide, is in remission after surgeons removed her right breast and began chemotherapy treatments.

On the upswing

Pat McDougall, coach of La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.), said his Mavericks (11-4) are getting better after a slow start. The Mavs have excellent height with seven players 6-0 or taller, including three at 6-2.

Three Mavs seniors have committed to colleges: 6-1 middle hitter Lisa Kramer to San Diego; 5-9 outside hitter Brooke Shupryt-Knoop to Colgate; and 6-2 middle blocker Natalie Bausback to Virginia.

But McDougall said his most effective hitter so far has been 6-2 sophomore Brittany Abercrombie, a lefty with the highest kill percentage on the team.

McDougall also praised Bausback as his best all-around player because of her versatility and said Kramer is her “bookend” in the middle.