It's quite fitting that the Ambridge Area boys volleyball team ends the regular season with a non-section match against North Allegheny on May 10.
The Bridgers have won four of the past five WPIAL Class AA titles and have been ranked No. 1 all season at that level. The Tigers have won six consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles and have been ranked No. 1 the entire season.
"We've met in the last match of the regular season for a long time," Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. "It's a great tuneup for the playoffs, and the results will not affect our seeding."
Coincidentally, the two also met in the opening weekend of the season. The Bridgers faced the Tigers in the title match of the North Allegheny tournament and posted a 2-1 victory.
"I don't know of any team in the WPIAL that faced a stronger tournament schedule than we have this year," Freed said. "We want to face the toughest possible schedule to get us ready for the postseason tournaments."
Ambridge followed its title-winning performance at the North Allegheny tournament with a sub-par effort at the Northeastern tournament.
"We didn't play well that weekend," Freed said. "We lost in the first round of the playoffs to Central Dauphin."
Ambridge rebounded the following weekend by winning the Maplewood tournament. Since then, the Bridgers appeared in the Koller Classic in York and the State College tournament. They advanced to the quarterfinals in both, then dropped narrow decisions.
"We lost to North Allegheny in the quarterfinals at York, then lost to Pennsbury in the semifinals at State College," Freed said. "The thing I like the most about our tournament schedule is that we've faced the top teams in the state, including some that we might face if we make it back to the PIAA tournament."
Northeastern of District 3 is ranked No. 1 in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA state rankings. Ambridge is No. 2, while defending champion Bethlehem Catholic of District 11 is No. 3.
"After competing in so many good tournaments, I think it's safe to say that Northeastern, Ambridge and Bethlehem Catholic are the three best teams in the state in Class AA," Freed said. "We just have to continue playing well in the playoffs."
Ambridge's lineup features five All-WPIAL Class AA players, including Lee Smith, a 6-foot-5 junior outside hitter who is considered one of the best players in the state, if not the best.
"Lee is considering offers from Penn State, Ohio State and a few California schools," Freed said. "He plans on making visits, but hasn't had much time because of all the tournaments we've been in."
Smith was joined on the All-WPIAL first team by teammates Cody Brooks, a 5-10 senior libero, and Brandon Buck, a 6-4 junior opposite. Dan Zajac, a 6-1 junior middle hitter, was voted to the second team. Andrew Stojan, a 6-1 senior outside hitter, appeared on the third team.
Smith, Brooks and Stojan are three-year starters.
"Our biggest concern coming into the season was to find a setter to replace Justin Gleason," Freed said. "Fortunately, Aaron Meuller has stepped in and done a fine job."
Ambridge's eight-player rotation also includes Trent Munk, a 6-6 senior middle hitter, and John Gottron, a 5-8 senior defensive specialist.
After defeating Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 3-0, Tuesday, Ambridge has a 5-0 record in Class AA Section 1. The Bridgers have already qualified for the WPIAL playoffs and will be seeded No. 1.
First Published May 2, 2013 4:00 AM