Friday September 21, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield High volleyball coach Brian Lawton points to one of the countless banners on the wall of the Generals' gym. The banners, of course, represent Pittsfield High's long and successful athletic history.

The banner to which Lawton is pointing commemorates Pittsfield's back-to-back county championships in 2005-06.

"We'd like to get back to those days at some point," said Lawton recently.

It's a heady aspiration. In 2005, Pittsfield went 14-0 overall, winning the county championship. But the team lost in the first round of the Western Mass. Division II tournament.

In 2006, the Generals were 14-0 in the league, annexing a second county crown. The team was 18-1 overall. That team, a little more experienced and savvy, was the first county volleyball squad to advance to a Western Mass. Final.

The Generals did eventually lose in the title game to Longmeadow.

This year's edition of the team is starting to move in that direction. After several years of missing the Western Mass. tournament, Lawton's team is 2-2 in this young season.

But it has been a "good" 2-2, achieved in a tough, balanced league against good teams. Pittsfield opened the season with wins over defending county champion Mount Greylock and tournament team St. Joseph's. Their most recent losses have been to Wahconah and Lee, two teams which are still undefeated.

"Yeah, it's been a tough way to start," said Lawton. "But we're getting better."

Lawton would know. The Taconic High School graduate is what might be described as the "godfather" of Pittsfield High School volleyball. He has been the coach at PHS for the 14 years of its existence as a program.

"Yeah, I've been here pretty much the whole time," he said with a laugh.

This year's addition of the team is athletic and versatile. The Generals have a lot of good servers, a lot of good spikers. The principal drawback for PHS is a relative lack of real height. They have some big players, but non one dominant performer.

Lawton, however, sees that as a plus.

"We try to spread the offense around," he said.

Against Lee, a 3-1 PHS loss, Lawton noted that while Tiffany Robinson led the team with 15 assists, "we had a number of players with four assists, five assists. That's usually how our stats break down."

With no dominant performer, Pittsfield relies more on cohesiveness, patience and communication to be successful.

"We talk about communicating all the time," said co-captain Megan Bodnar. "We know we have to work together to be good."

"We stress communication," agreed Lawton. "We're always talking about it. We know that we have to talk and we have to know where everyone is."

Both Bodnar and Lawton believe that while the Generals have now dropped two in a row, the team is also improving.

"We actually played very well, I thought," said Lawton. "Lee is a very good team."

"This is as good as we've played all year," said Bodnar following the loss to Lee. "I'm very confident that if we play as well as this the rest of the way, we'll make the [Western Mass.] tournament. That's our goal."