Despite losing three of their best players (Alex Weeast, Keenan Albright and Mick Rentschler) from last year's team, the Topton Thundercats 18s are continuing their winning ways.The Topton 18s club volleyball team coached by Jessie Franko, who also directs the Brandywine Heights boys' high school varsity volleyball team, has compiled a 26-7 record in matches this winter.

"We lost a lot of height, but the team is playing really well together," Coach Franko said. "We actually beat Reiffton Volleyball, containing some players from the Exeter HS team, in both games in pool play."

Exeter is annually one of the best teams in Berks I. Wyomissing finished second last year in Berks II and with everyone back will pose a big threat to the Bullets.

At a tournament at Albright on Feb. 2, the Thundercats finished third out of 25 teams, advancing to the semifinals.

"We've made it to the semifinal round in five of six tournaments, qualifying for the finals twice and winning once," Franko said. "We've played in Berks, Lancaster and York Counties against other Junior Olympic volleyball teams."

The Topton 18s are comprised of eight players, one of whom attends Central Catholic and the rest are Brandywine students.

Mitch Gantner is the team's captain. Fellow seniors Matt Ripple and Ryan Kelly are also key contributors as are juniors Chad Gechter and Jon Singer. Sophomores Wyatt Moyer and Jon Singer see action as does Mike Wiencek, a senior from Central.

"Before this year, Singer was a wrestler, who was on the Brandywine JV volleyball team, but not the club team," Franko said. Now, Singer and Moyer are both gaining valuable experience playing club volleyball.

In the Thundercats' first appearance in a tournament at Albright on January 19, they captured the title by going 16-0 in games and downing the Panthers from William Tennent HS in the finals. Included in these victories was a win over the Nittany Elite team with players from the State College HS team.

Prior to this impressive performance, the Topton 18s lost in the finals of a tournament at Linden Hall in Lancaster County to Red Rose volleyball, a combination of players from Berks teams.

"This weekend (Feb. 9 and 10), we play at State College against 64 teams from Ohio eastward and Canada," Franko said. "Out of the 64 teams, we will be ranked around 35 in the middle of the pack."

Helping Franko get this group in shape for a successful spring HS season are 17s and JV coach Brent Gechter and 14s coaches Joanne Oswald and Patrick Fenstermacher.

"The 14s are all Brandywine kids who are just learning to play volleyball because there is no Middle School or youth volleyball for boys at the school,"Franko said.

"The youngest boy on this team is only nine. The 14s entered their first tournament last week and won two games, which is good for a very young team."

Logan Gehman, Austin Gehman, Chris Langston, Steven Sherry, Conten Fenstermacher, Ty Robinson, Austin Mest, Bronson Oswald and Eric Hauck are members of the 14s.

The 17s are comprised of mostly sophomores, but the setter will turn 18 shortly. The majority of these players are part of the Brandywine JV although Tyler Reed is a sophomore at Kutztown.

"The 17s have been in three tournaments and haven't won much, but they're playing older kids as they get used to playing together," Franko said.

The 17s include Derek Rader, Tyler Mest, Tyler Mudgett, Daniel Desrosiers, Remington Kauffman, Zach Trumbauer, Chris Reber and the aforementioned Tyler Reed.

The more experience these kids gain at the club volleyball level, the better the Brandywine boys' varsity volleyball program will be now and in the future.

Contact Nils at tkozch@berksmontnews.com.

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