Phil O’Keeffe learns something new at every Fox Chapel girls volleyball practice or when he sits on the bench for a match.
That may sound strange considering the volleyball acumen O’Keeffe accrued in his 15 years as the Fox Chapel boys coach, but in his first season coaching the girls he’s seeing firsthand the differences in style of play between the two games.
“At times, I feel like I’m learning as much from the girls as they are from me,” said O’Keeffe, who has won two WPIAL titles with the boys team. “I’m learning that in the girls game you need more finesse than just pure power. I guess I knew that, but I guess I didn’t believe it until I was sitting on the bench looking at it.”
As O’Keeffe and the team learn together in the early part of the season, they’re off to a good start in Section 4-AAAA play with 3-0 wins over Woodland Hills and Penn Hills. The Foxes suffered a 3-0 nonsection defeat to Hampton, which is ranked No. 5 in Class AAA in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll, on Monday and fell 3-0 to Armstrong on Thursday.
The difference in styles has been an adjustment for O’Keeffe, but he is getting more comfortable with each match.
“In the boys game, on a good set and a good hit there’s what we call a terminal point, where the ball gets killed, blocked or hit out of bounds,” O’Keeffe said. “The ball doesn’t come back over the net too often. In the girls game there are longer rallies. Ball control and ball placement are a lot more important. Unless you have a girl that can really swing it, power is less important.”
The Foxes focused in practice on having a stronger presence at the net. It’s something Tessa Friday has seen develop from her spot in the back row as the team’s libero. She is enjoying the overall change O’Keeffe has brought to the team.
“He’s a little more laid-back than our coach (Sarah Kirch) last year, but he pushes us just as well as our coach did last year,” said Friday, who is a senior. “Since he’s the main coach for the guys game, he’s brought over some different aspects to us. We’re more focused on front row attacks and being more aggressive. Overall, it’s been a really good experience and a good change.”
The front row has depth and experience. Senior middle hitter Katherine Chomko and juniors Jessie Michel, an outside hitter, and Megan Friday, an opposite hitter, bring unique attributes that make up a formidable front row.
“Katherine is one of our best hitters,” Tessa Friday said. “She always makes a difference when she is in the game — not just by getting points but by being loud and being a leader. Jessie plays both front row and back row, so she’s in the whole time. She’s always aggressive and takes a swing. Megan is smart with her plays. She does a lot of tips that end up working like 90 percent of the time. She also does a great job as a leader.”
Fox Chapel hopes to qualify for the postseason for the third consecutive season. This year the Foxes are hoping for a better showing after losing in the first round the last two times.
“We made it last year, but we lost to Seneca Valley in the first round, who went on to win the whole thing,” Friday said. “This year we want to go further than that. Of course the overall goal it go as far as we can, but we want to go further than last year for sure.”