South Park coach Jesse Panzarello on WPIAL girls volleyball realignment: "This section is probably a little stronger than the one we were in last year. ... but I feel we can be very competitive. This section gives us a fresh start."
By Ken Wunderley Tri-State Sports & News Service
High school girls volleyball fans will see a different look in the WPIAL's sectional alignment for the 2012 season.
Thirteen of the WPIAL's 18 sections have changed, with Class AAA and AA seeing the most significant changes.
Four schools have moved up in classification, two schools have moved down, and two dropped their program.
The Class AAA alignment has increased to 35 teams after adding three schools and losing two. Montour, West Allegheny and Laurel Highlands have moved from Class AA to AAA, West Mifflin moved to Class AA and New Castle dropped its program.
Fox Chapel has moved from Section 4 to Section 3 to replace New Castle, thus making the strongest Class AAA section even stronger.
"I was shocked to see that Fox Chapel was moved to our section," said Seneca Valley coach Karen Martini, who led the Raiders to a WPIAL Class AAA title last year. "If you're going to move any team from Section 4, then I would have expected Shaler to be the choice. Either way, it's making the strongest section even stronger."
Section 3 has dominated the Class AAA final the past four years. Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland have each made three appearances in the title match and each claimed one title. North Allegheny also captured a title during this stretch.
"We have five teams in this section that are good enough to be in the playoffs, but only three can qualify," said Martini, referring to Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny, Butler and Fox Chapel. "A couple teams will get shortchanged."
Montour and West Allegheny have been placed in Section 5, along with Baldwin, Bethel Park, Chartiers Valley, Moon and Mt. Lebanon. The duo are replacing Oakland Catholic and West Mifflin. Oakland Catholic has moved to Section 4 to replace Fox Chapel.
"The last time we were in Class AAA was 2003," Montour coach Brendon Aleski said. "We were in a section with Baldwin, Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair for two years, then moved to Class AA in 2004. Adding Montour and West Allegheny to Section 5 makes it possibly the strongest section in Class AAA."
After moving to Class AA, Montour qualified for the WPIAL playoffs seven of the past eight years.
"Moving to Class AAA has changed things a lot, but at the same time it has changed very little for me," West Allegheny coach Brian Begor said. "I break things into two categories: things that I can control and things I can't control. This falls in the latter category."
West Allegheny was one of the strongest teams in Class AA, as the Indians finished among the top four in the WPIAL the past seven years.
"Three girls. We were three girls over the cutoff," Begor said. "We're still far more of a Class AA team, but I also understand the PIAA has to set cutoffs. We may be the smallest Class AAA team in the state."
In Class AA, all seven sections were affected by the realignment, with Sections 1 and 5 with the smallest change.
Section 1 now has six teams as Lincoln Park has moved to Section 2. In Section 5, Charleroi has replaced Laurel Highlands, which moved up to Section 1 in Class AAA.
With West Allegheny and Montour moving to Class AAA, the section they were in last year has split. Central Valley and Quaker Valley have moved to Section 2, along with Ambridge, Freedom, New Brighton and Lincoln Park. South Fayette and Keystone Oaks have moved to Section 6, along with East Allegeny, South Park, Steel Valley and Seton-LaSalle.
"The only team I'm familiar with in this section is Keystone Oaks," South Fayette coach Scott Sundgren said. "It will be a little bit of a learning curve for us. Traveling to East Allegheny will be a haul, but we're looking forward to the challenge of playing in a new section."
South Park coach Jesse Panzarello has similar feelings.
"This section is probably a little stronger than the one we were in last year," Panzarello said. "And we do have a wide range of travel with East Allegheny and South Fayette in the picture, but I feel we can be very competitive. This section gives us a fresh start."
Seton-LaSalle has moved up to Class AA and has a new coach.
"It's a bit disappointing that we moved up because we would have had one of the best teams in Class A," said coach Kevin Hummert, who comes to Seton-LaSalle after spending the past five years as Shenango's head coach. Our goal is to compete for the section title and hopefully be a top 10 team in Class AA."
Last year's Sections 4, 5 and 6 have also split. The top three teams from Section 4 -- Indiana, Greensburg Salem and Derry -- have been placed in the newly formed Section 3, along with three teams from last year's Section 6 -- Apollo-Ridge, Ford City and Kittanning.
"We will be doing a lot more traveling in this section," Derry coach Brock Smith said. "I'm very familiar with Indiana and Greensburg Salem, but don't know anything about the other three teams. We will get a chance to play some new teams and form new rivalries."
The remaining three teams from last year's Section 4 -- Yough, Southmoreland and Belle Vernon -- have moved to Section 7, along with three teams from the old Section 5 -- Elizabeth Forward, South Allegheny and Thomas Jefferson -- and West Mifflin, which dropped from Class AAA.
"This new section is a better geographic fit for us," Yough coach Frank German said. "In fact, the entire Class AA alignment is a better geographic fit. But it may have hurt the overall competitive balance, as some sections are stronger than others."
A good example of that is the new Section 4, which includes Knoch, Mars and Freeport, three teams that are annually among the top 10 teams in Class AA. Freeport has been to the WPIAL title match the past three years, while Knoch and Mars are regulars in the playoffs.
"We try to look at geography as much as possible when forming an alignment," said Our Lady of the Sacred Heart coach Mike McDonald, who also serves as chairman of the WPIAL volleyball steering committee. "But we also consider competitive balance, if possible. Sometimes it's not possible to have competitive balance when teams are so spread out geographically."
Class A is almost unchanged, as four of the six sections remain the same. The most significant change came in Section 1, as West Shamokin moved down from Class AA and Elderton dropped its program. Also, Wilkinsburg has moved from Section 1 to Section 2 to replace Seton-LaSalle.