DuBOIS — Veteran coach Jason Gustafson has built the DuBois volleyball to the point where it consistently overcomes the loss of key players to graduation and still remains one of the top teams in District 9 on a yearly basis.
The ability to do that will once again be tested this season, as Gustafson lost a huge 9-girl senior class that made up the majority of the varsity rotation from a squad that captured the program’s third straight D-9 Class 3A crown.
Gone are the likes of All-State middle hitter Sydney Kaschalk, setter Cate Gregory and outside hitters Kaylee Sadowski and Cayla Donahue among others.
Those losses are compounded by the fact he has just two seniors — Taylor Smith and Emma Torretti — on the active roster. Lakin Smith would be the Lady Beavers’ third senior returnee, but she will miss the season while receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Beyond that, the roster is comprised mostly of juniors (9) and sophomores (7), with there also being a pair of freshmen (Morgan Pasternak and Grace Prosper) on the team.
“We lost eight or nine seniors last year, and no matter what, that’s eight or nine players,” said Gustafson. “That was a big senior class, and those kids had a lot of experience. At least four of them played significant time on varsity for three years. So, that’s definitely hard to replace.
“But, we’ve worked hard with the younger kids to keep continuity there. Otherwise, why would you be doing it. But, this year is a little different because even after losing that group, we only have two active seniors with Lakin out because she’s ill.
“We have Taylor and Emma, and they are going to play a big role this year for sure. Taylor has been in the lineup for three years. Emma has not been a starter but has gotten rime and knows what she’s doing out there.”
Smith returns at middle hitter, a spot where juniors Leah Colville and Lauren Walker will also see time. Torretti will start the year at libero, with junior Rachel Radaker also expected to see time there as well.
At outside hitter, Gustafson is looking at the duo of juniors Bella Gregory and Ashlyn West to carry the load to start the season, while junior Hannah Spinda and sophomore Emma Delp will see on the right side.
For all those hitters to succeed, they will need play great play from the setter position, and the team has big shoes to fill with the loss of Gregory. Gustafson will call on the pair of junior Eden Galiczynski and sophomore Emily Snyder to replace her. He said both girls bring something different to the position.
“Honestly, this is probably as exciting a year as I’ve had coaching with the kids we have,” said Gustafson. “There is potential there for them to be a good team. Will be it be the same season as last year … that would be great if it was.
“The 11th graders have played a lot together, and the 10th graders have played a lot together. They have also played mixed in together some at practice, but they haven’t played varsity (matches) together a lot. But, they have played a lot of volleyball, so we’ll see.
“At this point, the goal is to be better at the end of the year than we are at beginning. Everyone says that, but that’s where we are right now because we just don’t know. The big thing is we’re just glad we’re playing and back on the court. The kids have been great in terms of following the rules, the social distancing part at practice, wearing their masks, the health screenings.
“There has been no pushback at all, and we don’t have to tell them to do any of it. They do it on their own, and that’s a testament that they want to play and are glad to be back with the opportunity to do something.”
DuBois opens its season tonight at Punxsutawney, then hosts cross-town foe DuBois Central Catholic on Thursday.
Seniors: Taylor Smith, Emma Torretti. Juniors: Leah Colville, Eden Galiczynski, Abby Geist-Salone, Bella Gregory, Kattera Patton, Rachel Radaker, Hannah Spinda, Lauren Walker, Ashlyn West. Sophomores: Kendra Cowen, Maddie Crabtree, Emma Delp, Gabby Gulvas, Kalysta Long, Jess Pfaff, Emily Snyder. Freshmen: Morgan Pasternak, Grace Prosper.