Volleyball Seniors Prime Team for the Future

After the Fox Chapel Area boys volleyball senior night game, the Foxes team, coaches, and some alumni gathered on the court for a final photograph. Years from now, it will serve as a nice memento, especially for the six seniors, half of whom played all four years and roughly 120 games together. Three other seniors joined the “family” in the past two years. However, regardless of varied experiences, they mentored the largest group of underclassmen in recent years and will carry abundant memories that will endure long beyond graduation. 

Solomon Amemasor, Rowan Gladwin, Jack Lynch, Connor Scanlon, Ethan Shelestak, and Andrew Shepard lived up to the expectations coach Phil O’Keeffe had for them as they helped in the developmental process of so many newcomers. According to coach O’Keeffe, he couldn’t have found a better group of young men to take on that task. 

“This was one of my favorite classes in my 22 years with the team,” says coach O’Keeffe. “I loved their cohesiveness, how they led by example, showed great sportsmanship, and taught the underclassmen to work hard every day. They were a group of talented, nice men who handled themselves very maturely, represented our school well, and were committed to getting better.”

Andrew, a core member of the team who picked up the sport in sixth grade, has keen knowledge of the game passed down from his parents. Both his mother and father played in college, and his mother led her team at St. Vincent College to the NCAA tournament. Coach O’Keeffe refers to him as strong and competitive, and one of the best setters to come through the Foxes program. Now a Chatham College recruit, Andrew wasn’t just a mentor. He learned a great deal about himself during his time with the team, especially about leadership. 

“I started out more being more demanding and ‘coaching’ my teammates about how to fix things,” says Andrew, an elite club player for years. “But we have coaches to do that, so now I’m more about picking up my team and motivating them, and it definitely is working better.”

Andrew has always appreciated the importance of teamwork but takes away an even deeper understanding of what it takes to get everyone on the same page. 

He says, “The sport involves more teamwork than some other sports and is a great way to learn how to work with others. You only get one touch on the ball, so it’s a sport where everyone must work together for every single point. One thing that has been nice is that, as a team, we have gotten closer as we’ve played throughout the years. We’ve learned to trust each other to make plays.”

Memories of Friendship, Hard Work, and Dedication

Coach O’Keeffe describes middle hitter Solomon as a player who has really come into his own this year due to his incredible work ethic. Solomon has special memories of the season, especially a highly-charged game against a formidable foe. 

“My best memory from my senior year was beating North Hills when we pulled off a reverse sweep,” Solomon says. “That’s when the other team wins the first two sets, but your team wins the next three sets in a row to win the match. It was an overall fun game and a great experience. The team had so much energy that match, and we were all playing at our best.”

Even coach O’Keeffe had to think back in program history to remember a game that had the same impact. 

“I’ve not seen that great of a game since 2006,” says the coach. “It was a nice, exciting come-from-behind win.” 

In addition to that game, the team defeated Peters Township and Deer Lakes. 

Former soccer player Rowan joined the team two years ago, and his impact and athleticism were assets from the time he first stepped foot on the court. He has a humble recollection of his rookie year. 

“I’ve learned a lot about patience and humility,” he says while praising coaches O’Keeffe and Jordan Varee for getting him up to pace quickly. “Starting as a junior was completely new to me. I had to be a student of my peers and go through failure after failure.”  

Ethan, Jack, and Connor’s influence was also important in priming the team for growth. 

Coach O’Keeffe says, Ethan, though quiet, commanded attention with his skill, athleticism, and overall determination. “His natural ability to pass made him one of the top ball control players I have ever had,” he says.

“Jack’s versatility in all areas, combined with his determination to make an impact, made him a valuable asset, even though he was with the team only two years. And, Connor, despite playing for only one year, was a great addition. He epitomizes hard work and perseverance.” 

Promising Future

Although the team is losing its entire starting lineup, the seniors feel confident that they have left behind a group of players who are excited to progress. 

“It takes a few years to play instinctively, and that’s part of the process we’re working on with all of our players,” says coach O’Keeffe. “When we started the season, some of them had not played before, but the seniors have always been inclusive.”  

“I definitely think the underclassmen grew in both skill and maturity,” Solomon says. “If you compare them now to the beginning of the season, you can see how much they have improved as players. They have learned what is expected of them and have been working hard at each practice to become the players they are now. I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.” 

Rowan and Andrew also offer some tips for the teammates they are leaving behind.  

“Have fun with the game,” Rowan comments. “But, winning is far more fun than losing, so make sure to be competitive.”

Andrew adds, “This might be cheesy to say, but if you aren’t having fun, why are you doing this? When you are having fun, the best of you comes out.”

Solomon concludes with, “Sometimes we forget that we are allowed to have fun while playing the sport. I would say, be competitive, but have fun. I would also tell them to take practice seriously and want to become better. Working hard at practice will pay off and it will show when they are playing in games. I’ve also learned that having a positive mindset helps.”