Revolution PGH 18 White head coach Mike Hogan occasionally gets nervous about having just eight players on his roster — especially about having only one setter.
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But barring injury or an ill-timed bout of the flu, Hogan feels really good about the team he has, and he’s right to. Just two tournaments into the 2020 season, Revolution PGH 18 White boasts a second-place finish at the MLK Kickoff Challenge and a first-place finish from the Ohio Valley Region Winterfest. This weekend, the team is aiming for another good performance at the Capitol Hill Classic in Washington D.C.
To combat the potential risks of the small roster size, 18 White travels with the setter from Revolution PGH’s other 18s team when they can, but they’ve also been putting in the time to train hitter Maggie Hogan — Mike’s daughter — to be the backup setter and second hands during broken plays.
“We run our second setter out of our right front instead of what most college teams and high level club teams (do, which is) run it through their libero,” Coach Hogan explained. “We’ve been able to keep that on our right front so we can maintain a real high-level offense.”
There’s another familial connection on the team between sisters Paige and Abby Miller. Abby’s the starting setter for 18 White, and a Cleveland State commit, and the two girls’ father Brian serves as the chief practice designer at Revolution PGH. Both Mike Hogan and Brian Miller are products of the Penn State men’s volleyball program.
Abby, the elder of the sisters, serves as the team’s starting setter and a leader on the court and off.
“Abby Miller, she’s the commander. She runs the show — all 5-7 of her,” Hogan said. “We have a bunch of big kids on our team, but everybody knows who is in charge, and she’s a special kid.
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“I’ve worked with her two years now, and her knowledge of not just setting the ball, but running an offense, like how to get teams out of system and how to establish some things, set some things up — Abby has made a lot of progress in that area and I think she’s going to be a wonderful collegiate setter.”
As for offensive weapons, Miller has plenty to choose from. There’s middles Makayla Jackson (Pitt) and Kiera Booth (Villanova), outsides Allison Murray (St. Francis) and Mekayla Dedo (Air Force), and opposite Maggie Hogan. Sophia Lucas and Paige Miller (William & Mary) provide the defensive and ball control oomph.
In addition to being a small team, 18 White probably carries a few more junior players than most 18 Open teams: four of the eight to be exact. That group includes Maggie Hogan, Jackson, Lucas, and Paige Miller.
“It’s definitely a challenge when you’re playing up an age division,” Hogan said. “Two years ago, we had the same situation when we had some 15s playing 16s while we were at (AAU) nationals and we darn near won the thing — we ended up taking third. So they’ve been in this situation before, and it’s a challenge that they really like.”
One 18 White player having a particularly notable season already is middle Booth. Once a talented multisport athlete at Berlin Brothersvalley High School, playing volleyball and basketball and competing with the track and field team, Booth recently made the decision to focus solely on volleyball, and Hogan says the effects are noticeable and significant.
“Kiera Booth is just having a wonderful year so far,” Hogan said. “She’s healthy, she’s strong, her skills are getting more polished now.”
Jackson, who committed to Pitt in the fall, is a little newer to the sport, giving volleyball a try for the first time in eighth grade, but she’s taken to it quickly, is ridiculously athletic, and as Hogan pointed out, always has a smile on her face.
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As for outsides Dedo and Murray, they play big and hit hard. Maggie Hogan and Paige Miller provide more ball control and versatility. And with such a small roster, that versatility has proven to be super valuable.
“With only eight kids on our team, we have to have kids be able to play multiple positions, so we spend a lot of time working on that, making sure we can adapt quickly in case something happens,” Hogan said. “I really think that’s a strength of ours. We have several kids that can do multiple positions to keep our team relatively strong.”
The Capitol Hill Classic looks to provide Revolution PGH 18 White with its toughest challenge yet. In the previous two tournaments, Renaissance 18-1 has been their strongest competition — Revolution lost to Renaissance in the 18 National Gold Bracket final at the MLK Kickoff Challenge, and then got redemption over its crosstown rival in the Winterfest 18 Open championship match — but Capitol Hill will offer that level of competition from start to finish.
“On championship Monday we want to be in that Gold pool,” Hogan said, “because I think there are no guarantees, but if you can get yourself into that Gold pool then you can really get a true measure of where you’re at, what you need to work on moving forward, and if you perform very very well on that last day, advance and get to the semis or finals, those are baby steps here early in the club season that we want to accomplish. We’ve got NEQ coming up, we’ve got MEQ coming up. We’re hoping to get a bid to nationals. So this is a good measuring stick.”