Depth Key as Foxes Look to Rebound

Fox Chapel Area’s boys volleyball found itself in unfamiliar territory in 2023. A team that traditionally qualifies for the postseason and captured WPIAL championships in 2006 and 2015 struggled last season, amassing a 2-14 record, 1-11 in the always-rugged WPIAL Class 3A Section 2.

“We had a bad year,” admitted coach Phil O’Keeffe. “We had a lot of new guys. We were kind of young. We never put all of the pieces together.”

Coach O’Keeffe has much higher hopes as he embarks on his 22nd year as Fox Chapel Area’sa boys volleyball coach.

“We’ve picked up a couple of new seniors, and the guys who started as juniors last year have a year under their belt, so they’re not ‘deer in headlights’ anymore,” he said. “For the first time in a while, we’re going to have two strong teams at practice. I’m looking forward to it.”

 That kind of depth can go a long way for getting the Foxes ready for volleyball contests this season, plus it creates competition for playing time.

Coach O’Keeffe will be counting heavily on senior Andrew Shepard, whom the coach referred to as “arguably one of the best setters in the WPIAL.” Andrew is also a strong hitter.

Senior Rowan Gladwin is probably ticketed for a spot at outside hitter, senior Solomon Amemasor will play in the middle, senior Jack Lynch adds length and athleticism, and senior Ethan Shelestak may spend time as an outside hitter, but he is quite effective as the team’s libero, a position he’s played since he was a freshman.

New to the program but expected to contribute are seniors Josh Angerman and Connor Scanlon, who is also a member of the Fox Chapel Area soccer team.

Of course, Fox Chapel Area will be tested all season, especially with games in a section that often produces the WPIAL champion.

“Year in and year out, our section is probably the toughest in the state,” coach O’Keeffe said. “That’s pretty much indisputable.”

For proof that that is indeed true, one needs to look no further than section mate North Allegheny, a perennial powerhouse with 22 WPIAL championships since 1985, 16 of them coming since 2003.

Other tough teams in the section include 2023 WPIAL champion Shaler Area and 2022 WPIAL finalist Seneca Valley.

“The four teams coming out of our section are three of the four semifinalists almost every year,” coach O’Keeffe said. “It’s just tough to get out of our section. It’s still good volleyball.”

Coach O’Keeffe feels the trials and tribulations of the 2023 season could help this year’s squad.

“An extra year of experience and knowing how to play the game better is going to help them,” he said. “Last year, they probably felt they would be playing no matter what. Now, we have many players competing, 12 or 13 players competing for seven spots. Hopefully, that leads to better outcomes.”

Aside from staying healthy, another key will be taking what is done in practice into game situations.

“Then they’re not thinking about what they have to do, they’re reacting,” coach O’Keeffe said. “Last year, you could see them trying to figure out what to do in the split second that the ball is coming to them or when they’re without the ball. If that split second goes away and they move to where they need to be, that’s going to help a lot.”