Boys’ volleyball finds positives after reaching postseason again

Boys' volleyball

Saturday, May 28, 2022, TRIB-LIVE

Phil O’Keeffe’s 20th season as Fox Chapel boys volleyball coach wasn’t as lengthy as hoped, but the veteran coach is pleased about the season overall.

The Foxes finished 5-7 in section play and 6-9 overall. Fox Chapel made the WPIAL playoffs for the seventh time during O’Keeffe’s tenure.

The Foxes, seeded 12th in the Class 3A playoffs, were swept by No. 5 Norwin, 3-0, in the opening round of the playoffs.

“Success is always in relative terms,” the veteran coach said. “Before the season, we knew we were going to be young. The way it was playing out, we had three starting sophomores who are young but pretty good, and three first-year seniors.”

Eric Baker, Bobby Chacko and Mannix McKaveney came out for the team, and that turned out to be a positive.

Said O’Keeffe: “All three of them did very well, considering they had only about a month of practice before we started our games. We’re very pleased with that. I give a ton of credit to all three of them for hanging in there. They performed admirably.”

Once again, a major contributor was Ben Shelestak, one of the WPIAL’s top players. Even with the skills of the players on hand, it was tough handling traditional section opponents such as North Allegheny, Shaler and Seneca Valley.

Those three schools earned three of the top four seeds in the Class 3A bracket. To no one’s surprise, Seneca Valley and North Allegheny, the top two seeds, played for the WPIAL title May 25 at Robert Morris.

“I knew going in it was going to be a little rough, but I was pleased at making the playoffs,” O’Keeffe said. “In the last match of the season, we had to beat Butler at home, and we ended up tied for fourth place, finally beating Butler in the last set.”

The Foxes trailed 14-10 in the final set before rallying to a 20-18 victory. The May 10 victory avenged a 3-0 setback at Butler eight days earlier.

As a youngster, O’Keeffe played at Central Catholic High School, then at Allegheny College. After that, he played eight years professionally with the Macon Volleyball Club in France.

After his playing days ended, O’Keeffe returned and helped a friend coach a Junior Olympic team. He got the coaching itch permanently and came to Fox Chapel a year later.

His Foxes brought home WPIAL championships in 2006 and ’15. The 2007 team and the 2010 team were both WPIAL and PIAA runners-up.

The 2022 squad was the seventh team to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

“We know what our section is. I try to get a run every four years or so,” O’Keeffe said.

“So it seems to be the cycle. Teams like NA and Seneca seem to reload every year, and we look at every four-year cycle.”

One disappointment was the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Foxes were thought to be a WPIAL contender and had done well in scrimmages before the plug was pulled on the season.

“The ’06 team is what really put the program in motion, winning the WPIAL, then making it to the state finals,” O’Keeffe said.

“That was my fourth year and their fourth year.”

The Foxes will be playing in the same section over the next two seasons against Butler, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Shaler.

Jordan Varee, a member of the 2006 team, was O’Keeffe’s top assistant for the past seven seasons.