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Serving Up Success: Keystone’s Exley Healthy and Dominating Again on Volleyball Court

KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Leah Exley’s right shoulder ached.

She couldn’t do the things she was accustomed to doing on the court for the Keystone volleyball team. She couldn’t unleash her powerful right arm for kills or showcase her dominant serve.

And she was frustrated.

“It definitely hit me hard,” Exley said of her sophomore season a year ago. “I didn’t play in a couple of games, and if I did play, I was just in the back row. I just couldn’t really swing it and it definitely slowed down my progress a little bit.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

Exley puts a lot of wear on the right arm of hers. In addition to being a middle and outside hitter for the Panthers’ volleyball team, she’s also a pitcher on the softball team. The strain on her arm began taking a toll and doctors told her she was closing in on a serious labrum injury if she didn’t slow down.

So, she did.

“I took that time and did exercises and things like that to try and build the muscle,” Exley said. “It still hurts sometimes, but I’ve just gotten used to it and just work through it because I love volleyball.”

Exley is 100% this season. Bad news for opponents. Free to swing her powerful right arm without restrictions, the 5-foot-9 force at the net — and, well, pretty much everywhere else on the court these days — is off to a torrid start.

The healed shoulder has allowed the junior to spring on opponents a devastating serve that she has been working on for more than year. It’s a serve that few high school players will even attempt let alone pull off like Exley has this season.

When Exley has it all working — the big toss, the long approach, the leap into the air and the powerful swing of her right arm — it can be a tremendous weapon.

“It’s like an Olympic serve,” said Keystone coach Bryan Mong. “She needs a lot of service space to do it. Because she’s very long-legged and has a long stride, she actually got called for a foot fault twice (against Redbank Valley) that would have been aces.”

It’s the spin, though, that makes the serve so tough to handle.

“It’s just a very dominant serve, and when it’s on, it’s impressive,” Mong said.

Exley taught herself the serve because she wanted to do something different and wanted to add to her game.

It’s been a process, though, partly because of her shoulder injury and partly because she had to grow confidence in the serve.

It can be high-risk, high-reward.

“I was definitely nervous using it at first,” Exley said. “This year, I feel pretty confident using it.”

Exley has also excelled in other ways this season for Keystone, which just won the Franklin Tournament over the weekend.

Exley had 12 kills in an epic five-set match against Redbank Valley last week and added 14 kills, four blocks and three aces in a win over Cranberry last Thursday.

Her play, as well as a solid core around her, has Keystone thinking big things again this season. The Panthers lost in the District 9 Class 2A final to Redbank Valley last year.

Mong said Exley should have a breakout campaign. She’s off to a good start.

“If she’s not first-team all-conference this year, I’ll be disappointed,” Mong said. “Korrin Burns of Clarion is definitely the top player without a doubt in our conference, but Leah is not too far behind that.”

Exley thought for the longest time that softball would be her true love, despite the fact her father, Bryan, and mother, Kim, were avid volleyball players when Exley was little.

But as soon as she started to become increasingly dominant on the court, her feelings shifted.

“I started playing travel softball when I was tiny, so I’ve definitely been more involved in that sport,” Exley said. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to love volleyball more, which surprises people. People always knew me for just being really good at softball. They don’t expect me to like volleyball that much, but I really do love it more than softball.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.