May 24—During what has been the most uncertain of times, high school athletes learned nothing can be taken for granted.
Gray-Paul Bossi and Nate Steenback learned that the hard way.
First, while the country coped at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic and locked down, they had their spring seasons canceled. That meant what they anticipated would be a successful volleyball campaign ended after just getting started.
Then, as other schools in Northeast Pennsylvania started the slow process of returning to normalcy, Abington Heights took a more measured approach and kept its high-risk, contact sports sidelined in the fall. That meant both had no soccer season, either.
Two opportunities to compete. Both lost.
When spring approached, and the possibility of volleyball being played looking more like a reality, both set their sights on making the most out of this chance.
So far, with their contributions and leadership, things couldn’t have gone better.
Abington Heights earned the Lackawanna League championship and is the No. 2 seed for the District 2 Class 3A playoffs. The Comets (11-3) host Hazleton Area (5-6) on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in one of the semifinal matches. No. 4 Wyoming Valley West (6-7) is at top-seeded Delaware Valley (11-1) in the other at 5 p.m. The winners meet Thursday at the home gym of the higher remaining seeded team.
“It was upsetting losing two seasons,” Steenback said. “The volleyball team was always fun to be around. I enjoyed playing soccer, too, and it really hurt not having the season.
“When we knew we would have a season for volleyball, I was stoked. I knew that we had a shot at the league coming in. I tried to keep my mind on every game like it was a championship game and playing as well as I could to keep the team firing all season. Our mentality is that we have to give it all we have. No game is taken for granted.”
Both Bossi, a senior, and Steenback, a junior, were eager to return to action.
They played key roles in the 2019 season when Abington Heights reached the PIAA Class 2A playoffs as the third-place team out of the District 1-2-11 Subregional.
As the setter, Steenback had 262 assists in 2019. He also contributed more than 50 kills and more than 50 digs, while Bossi had 15 aces and 31 digs.
But with an entire season eliminated, the Comets missed out on an opportunity and had several important players graduate. So, when the team returned to the court, in addition to their play, Bossi and Steenback took on leadership roles, as well.
“It was a whole new team and we had to rebuild the chemistry in practice,” Bossi, 18, said. “We are a tight knit group of guys who like to see each other succeed and we really play well as a team.
“We had the most experience and we are the leaders who tried to teach the younger guys. We have done a pretty good job of that this year.”
Abington Heights started the season as the preseason favorite in large part because of Bossi and Steenback returning.
That prediction proved correct.
Bossi is a strong outside hitter. Despite being only 5-feet, 8-inches tall, he can leap high above the net and slams the ball. He has 78 kills, while also contributing 32 digs and 22 assists.
“It’s awesome being out there with Gray,” Steenback said. “He knows that if I am having an off night, he helps me shake off the errors and I help him if he is having a tough game. We have a lot of guys who can hit on this team.”
Steenback, who committed to the offseason by playing AAU volleyball, moved from being the setter to outside hitter giving the Comets a solid one-two punch at the net.
He leads the Comets with 130 kills and has 20 blocks. He also chips in with 39 digs and 31 assists.
“Our hitting is one of our strongest points,” Bossi said. “Every one of our guys can hit. I don’t think a lot of teams have that, so it makes us tough to defend.”
Abington Heights stormed through the early part of the Lackawanna League schedule. They won their first six matches and lost only two games. Then, in a tournament at Holy Redeemer, the Comets lost to the host Royals, 3-1, and Dock Mennonite, 3-0. Both of those programs are ranked in the state’s Class 2A top 10 poll by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
From there, Abington Heights rolled to four more wins before it hit a bump in the road.
North Pocono upset the Comets, 3-1, ahead of an anticipated rematch and showdown with Blue Ridge for the league title. Both agreed, the team, while not happy, used the defeat as a positive.
“We needed that loss,” Bossi said. “It refocused us and we got ready to play against Blue Ridge. It was a very good good thing.”
The Comets returned with a vengeance against Blue Ridge and dominated to lock down the championship.
“We needed that loss,” Steenback, 17, said. “We wanted a 12-0 season, but that loss allowed us to pick things up. From that Tuesday to Thursday, the focus, commitment and buying into each other was so good. That was great for the last game and we want that to carry into the playoffs.”
Now it is onto the next challenge.
Hazleton Area (5-6) plays out of the Wyoming Valley Conference. The Cougars are led by Cristian Posada, who has 68 kills, 52 serving points and 47 digs, and Connor Wolfe, who has 135 assists and 61 service points.
“We have to stay positive,” Steenback said. “We can get down on ourselves pretty hard at times when we make errors. Against North Pocono, we did that and we stayed down and hung our heads. We need to get ourselves out of that rut pretty quickly, just like we did against Blue Ridge.
“We value this opportunity a lot. We are very focused.”
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