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North Penn-Liberty volleyball hasn’t missed a beat

It’s never easy to replace six starters, let alone from a team that was a set away from a state championship. Yet, the North Penn-Liberty girls volleyball team has picked up right where they left off. The Mounties have only lost four sets all year en route to an 11-0 record, a fourth consecutive league championship, and the top seed in the District 4 Class AA tournament.

North Penn-Liberty will take on the winner of Wellsboro/Troy on Thursday at Williamson High School at 6:30 p.m. for their fifth consecutive District 4 championship.

Some people may have thought, maybe, finally, the Mountie dynasty would be over. After all, they lost six starters, including all-staters Joanne McNamara, Southern Tioga’s all-time leader in assists, and Maddison Minyo, currently playing at Cedar Crest College, who made a strong case to be state player of the year last year.

Grace Tice, now playing at Bethany College came on strong last year in her only year starting to emerge as the area’s premiere middle hitter. But those three — along with Lizzi Welch, Hannah Bowens and Patelin Nowak — were all gone.

The Mounties have a great program, from varsity on down, and, complimented by Nightmare Volleyball Club, led by Bill Grega, the cupboard was far from bare for coach Jennifer Nawri. Three sophomores who watched from the bench last year as North Penn-Liberty blitzed their way through the eastern half of Pennsylvania, losing only one set to an eastern team all year, have stepped up in a mighty way.

Darby Stetter sat and watched last year as Minyo and now-Senior outside hitter Charisma Grega formed a great one-two punch at outside hitter. This year she has stepped in for Minyo, playing all six rotations with crucial roles in both the Mountie attack and defensive coverage, and has been a rock.

“She’s one of your younger players who has been pulled up and she’s gaining in confidence,” said Nawri. “She watched a lot last year but this year I could see so much growth in her, not only physically but mentally. She’s a calm player and that fits in with our mentality.”

For Stetter, stepping into the starting lineup was further complicated by losing a good portion of her club season and not being able to get in the gym the entire summer, but she put the work in on her own and that has paid off.

“I definitely had to develop myself,” said Stetter. “Especially when COVID hit, I knew I would have to work hard to help the team still be successful.”

Stetter, second on the team in kills and third in digs, has become the second all-around threat the Mounties needed.

Fellow Sophomore Alexia Kshir stepped into the starting lineup at middle hitter, changing positions from being a setter/opposite hitter, and has been growing into the spot. The 5-foot-9 Kshir certainly has the size and skill to play in the middle. It was learning the new position that was a challenge, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.

“With our numbers down this season and with having lost both of our middles from last season, I needed to pull players into positions based on necessity,” Nawri said. “She had played right side along with setting and had the height we needed in the middle. She has a great attitude and a willingness to help the team, so was eager to try the middle position. She has done a great job.”

When all-state libero Ali Koval went down with an ankle injury in practice October 11, it couldn’t have come at a worst time. The Mounties were about to enter the teeth of their schedule, with matchups in the coming two weeks against undefeated Canton, undefeated Northeast Bradford, as well as rival Wellsboro and an improved Athens team that has since advanced to the District 2-4 subregional semifinals. Sophomore Chloe Hatch, who was just coming back from an injury of her own and was expected to spend the year on JV, was thrust into the lineup with no notice and has gone on to impress onlookers.

“Each game I feel like she’s getting better,” Nawri. “In the beginning we kind of threw her into the fire and there were some nerves at the beginning but in the last few games her communication has gotten better and her confidence is up.”

Hatch has stepped in and equaled Koval’s 6.2 digs per set, and with Koval set to return for the district playoffs, gives the Mounties flexibility going forward.

“I thought I was going to ease into (entering the starting lineup) but then it was go time,” Hatch sad.

“Ali has helped me out a lot, just remembering the plays and encouraging me,” she added.

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