The Norwin High School boys volleyball team saw its 30-match win streak in Class AAA Section 1 come to an end on April 16, but the Knights still have a chance to win their third consecutive section title.
"We need to go unbeaten in the second half to earn a share of the section title," Norwin coach Allen Warden said. "But it will not be easy. We're in the only section that has four teams in the WPIAL rankings."
Penn-Trafford (8-0) is No. 2 in the rankings, behind six-time WPIAL champion North Allegheny. Norwin (6-1) is No. 5, Plum (5-2) is No. 6, and Greater Latrobe (4-3) is No. 9.
"We went unbeaten in section play the last two years and won our first five section matches this year," Warden said. "I can't remember when our last section loss was, prior to this season."
Norwin's previous section loss came during the 2010 season. The Knights dropped a 3-1 decision to Latrobe on May 11 of that season, then won their section finale to begin what became a 30-match win streak.
"Both teams were short-handed when we played Penn-Trafford in the first half," Warden said. "Penn-Trafford was without their big middle hitter, Sam Kavel. We lost our setter Mitch Farabaugh during the fourth set."
Farabaugh, a 6-foot-1 senior setter, incurred a sprained ankle and has been sidelined since then.
"Penn-Trafford won the first set and we won the next two sets, but we couldn't win the clincher," said Warden. "Penn-Trafford came back and won game four, then beat us, 17-15, in game five. We actually had a 12-9 lead in the fifth game and were in the rotation we wanted, but couldn't finish them off."
Fortunately, Warden did have a contingency plan to offset the injury to Farabaugh.
"We run a 6-2 offense periodically, so we didn't have to use a setter without varsity experience," Warden said. "Nick Nguyen stepped in and did a very good job."
Nguyen, a 5-10 junior, is used as a defensive specialist when he's not setting.
"We actually were using a 6-2 more than a 5-1, because we wanted to have Mitch hitting when he rotated to the front row," Warden said. "Nick actually runs the offense a little faster, but we miss Mitch's hitting on the right side."
Warden isn't expecting Farabaugh back until the final week of the regular season.
"It would be nice to have Mitch back for our last two matches against Latrobe [May 7] and Penn-Trafford [May 9]," Warden said. "The kids are obviously looking forward to the rematch with Penn-Trafford, but we can't afford to look ahead. We can't underestimate any team in this section."
Farabaugh and Nguyen are two of five returning lettermen. The other five are 6-5 senior middle hitter Nick Idele, 6-1 senior libero Dane Hilko and 6-2 senior outside hitter Matt Kelly.
"Nick is one of the best middle hitters in the WPIAL. Nick was voted second-team All-WPIAL last year," Warden said. "He's a big force in the middle for us. He could play Division I ball in volleyball or basketball, but doesn't plan to play either in college.
"Dane was a defensive specialist last year. This year, we moved him to libero so we can use him when our middles rotate to the front row. We also use Dane as a second setter in certain situations."
Newcomers in Norwin's starting rotation are 6-1 junior outside hitter Aaron Shaffer, 6-5 junior opposite Kevin Zabelski and 6-3 junior middle hitter Jay Gurschecky.
Norwin played host to Hempfield Area on Tuesday. The Knights travel to Gateway tonight and are entered in Saturday's Plum tournament.
"We've been a bust in tournaments," Warden said. "We need to play better this weekend at Plum.