Maggie Mackins action file

Brookville’s Maggie Mackins tips the ball over the net during last year’s D9 final. Mackins is one of the top players returning for the defending Class 2A champions.

BROOKVILLE — After a long pause in the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will indeed now be a tough act to follow for the Brookville Lady Raiders volleyball team.

First-year head coach Melinda Burton, who replaced Joyce Reitz this summer, wasn’t even sure she’d get a chance to follow up on the program’s 17-4 season that included its first District 9 title in 17 years.

But the PIAA gave the OK and it was off to the races for the Lady Raiders, who had 26 players at the team’s first open gym back on Aug. 17. Now it’s up to 31 on the combined varsity and junior varsity rosters. It’s a blessing and certainly a stress point as volleyball coaches around the state are scratching their heads on how things will look in the gymnasium during a match.

“I feel like now we’re digging into a groove and that helps that we’re back in school so there’s a daily schedule for the kids and that bleeds right into practice,” said Burton, who started with the junior high program when it started in 2015 and coached the past three years under Reitz. “Starting those practices without having that structure, that’s where there was a little bit of hesitation about the season. But they’re coming along strong and I feel like we’re in a groove and ready to go.”

A graduating core of seniors helped lead the program to a 41-19 record the past three years. Five were part of the playing rotation last year, leaving a handful of players who played key rotation roles during the Class 2A title run.

Senior middle hitter Maggie Mackins leads the way. She’ll anchor the team at the net.

“I feel like her confidence level has improved drastically,” Burton said. “I can’t say enough about her. She’s coming on as a leader, they’re talking well on the court and communicating and that’s such a huge part of the game. She’s stopped into that role without any question.”

Senior Megrah Suhan and junior Emaa Venesky were regular rotation players with Suhan in the back row and Venesky wearing the libero shirt most matches. Junior Ashton Pangallo could either be the team’s setter or an outside hitter. If Pangallo is at the net, sophomore Reggan Olson might be setting. Junior Morgan Kulik will see time at outside hitter with seniors Zoe Craig and Taylor Reitz as opposite side hitters.

At the net, juniors Julia Bailey and Bella Hill, and sophomore Grace Matson will see time with juniors Emily Spencer, Mya Morey and Kaylee Himes likely filling spots in the back row defensive rotation.

With more preseason leading up to next Tuesday’s home opener with Curwensville, Burton likes how the whole roster is vying for playing time at the varsity and JV level. She’s hopeful the gymnasium restriction of 25 won’t last long or if it does, inhibit the reward for all of the hard work she’s seen.

“There’s not one of them who hasn’t put 100 percent effort into it and put her blood, sweat and tears on the line for this team,” she said.

What will change if there is a postseason is a bigger Class 2A playoff field in D9. Joining the class this year with the new cycle is Punxsutawney moving down from Class 3A along with Keystone and perhaps Cranberry. There are eight or nine (depending on Cranberry) 2A teams now with the others being the Lady Raiders, Redbank Valley, Kane, Karns City, Moniteau and Curwensville.

Assisting Burton will be Tina Householder, Elyse Hamaker, Dan Olson and Allen Morelock.

ROSTER

Seniors: Zoe Craig, Maggie Mackins, Julie MacWilliams, Faith Park, Maddison Payne, Emily Steel, Megrah Suhan, Taylor Reitz.

Juniors: Julia Bailey, Lauren Barnacastle, Bella Hill, Kaylee Himes, Morgan Kulik, Mya Morey, Ashton Pangallo, Emily Spencer, Emaa Venesky.

Sophomores: Grace Matson, Tory McKinney, Reggan Olson, Brielle Ross, Brooke Stephens.

Freshmen: Aubreona Eble, Natalie Haney, Victoria Hill, Bentley Hughey, Julie Monnoyer, Isabella Pangallo, Zoie Potts, Natasha Rush, Eden Wonderling.

SCHEDULE

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September

15-Curwensville

17-at Redbank Valley

22-at Punxsutawney

24-at DuBois CC

28-Sheffield

29-at North Clarion

October

5-Clearfield

6-at DuBois

8-Brockway

13-DuBois

15-at Curwensville

20-at Brockway

22-Punxsutawney

27-DuBois CC

29-at Sheffield

Matches begin with junior varsity at 6 p.m.

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