Senior setter Cameron Artz has been a key returning starter for the Penn-Trafford Warriors this season.
By Ken Wunderley Tri-State Sports & News Service
The Penn-Trafford boys volleyball team has a chance to achieve a program first at tonight's Class AAA Section 3 showdown between the Warriors and neighboring rival Norwin.
"We've never won a section title," Penn-Trafford coach Jim Schall said. "We've finished second and third in our section, but never first."
Penn-Trafford needs to beat Norwin to claim its first section title. The Warriors enter tonight's section finale with a 10-1 record. It's only setback came last week, a 3-1 loss to Plum (7-4).
"Plum has improved a good bit this year and played a strong match against us," said Schall, who didn't have the services of middle hitter Sam Kavel, due to an injury. "I don't want to use that as an excuse. Plum played better than we did."
Norwin is tied with Penn-Trafford at 10-1 after defeating Greater Latrobe, 3-0, Tuesday, dropping the Wildcats to 6-5 in the section. Penn-Trafford is the host of tonight's showdown.
"It's nice to be at home," Schall said. "I'm expecting a big crowd. We had a lot of our fans travel to Norwin when we played in the first half, so I expect them to bring a good sized crowd. The first match with Norwin went to five sets. I'm expecting another close match."
Penn-Trafford has a 14-1 overall record, which includes non-section wins against Pine-Richland, Upper St. Clair, Shaler Area and Butler Area. The Warriors have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.
"The winner of [tonight's] match with Norwin should be seeded No. 2 in the WPIAL bracket," Schall said. "And the loser should be seeded No. 3, but I don't think the WPIAL would seed it that way. That's how strong our conference is this year."
Schall has no doubt who will be seeded No. 1.
"North Allegheny is pretty solid at every position," Schall said. "Nobody's been able to beat them the past six years. Until somebody beats them, they have to be considered the team to beat."
Schall is very familiar with North Allegheny's coach, Dan Schall, his brother.
"Dan has one of his strongest teams," said Jim Schall. "It will be a challenge for anybody to beat them."
With North Allegheny as a prohibitive favorite, the other playoff participants in Class AAA would prefer to be in the lower half of the bracket.
"The teams that will be seeded No. 2 through No. 8 are very close," Schall said. "Any of them are capable of beating each other. We just have to play our best."
Schall has built this year's squad around five returning starters, including Kavel and Jacob Byers.
Kavel, a 6-foot-5 junior middle hitter, was voted first-team All-Section 3 and third-team All-WPIAL Class AAA last year.
"Sam started some during his freshman year," Schall said. "He's one of the best middle hitters in the WPIAL."
Byers, a 6-2 senior outside hitter, was voted second-team All-Section 3 last year.
"Jacob is a great front row guy," Schall said. "He's hit a ton of balls for us this year."
The other three returning starters are 6-1 senior setter Cameron Artz, 6-3 senior middle hitter Jesse Paluzzi and 5-8 senior libero Ethan Gelpi.
"Cameron is a good competitive kid who has taken charge of our offense, especially when we had a few kids out with minor injuries," Schall said. "Jesse picked up the slack on the front line when Sam was out."
Jarod Zeckowski, a 6-0 junior outside hitter, and Tyler Wyckoff, a 6-2 senior opposite, are a pair of newcomers who have moved into starting roles on the front line.
Schall has five players on the roster who have seen time as defensive specialists, 5-8 junior Dylan Paluzzi, 5-7 junior Michael Spino, 5-8 senior Alex Zabelsky, 5-7 junior Zach Vaught and 5-9 freshman Timmy Vecchio.