The boys volleyball teams from Norwin and Derry Area enter the WPIAL playoffs with the same goal after both advanced to the WPIAL finals last season and both had to settle for second best.
Norwin made its second appearance in the WPIAL finals and lost to North Allegheny for the second time. Derry earned its eighth title berth and finished second for the seventh time.
"One of our goals coming into the season was to win a third straight [Class AAA] Section 3 title," Norwin coach Al Warden said. "We were fortunate to reach that goal.
"Our next goal is to make it back to the WPIAL title match. It will not be easy, but we're looking forward to the challenge."
Norwin claimed its third consecutive section title on the final night of the regular season. The Knights were tied for first place with Penn-Trafford, a team that beat them in the first half of section play.
The rematch took place at Penn-Trafford and Norwin rallied from a 2-1 deficit in sets to defeat the Warriors.
"We were down 19-9 in the fourth set, but came back to beat them 25-23," Warden said of his squad, which posted a 15-12 victory in the fifth and deciding set.
"It was a combination of determination, good defense, and a little bit of luck."
Norwin finished the season with an 11-1 record in the section, while Penn-Trafford was second with a 10-2 mark. The Warriors also lost to Plum (8-4), the section's third-place finisher.
"To win three consecutive titles in such a strong section is an accomplishment to be proud of," Warden said. "And we've won all but one section match [in three years]."
The overall strength of Section 3 was evident in the WPIAL seeding, as Norwin and Penn-Trafford are two of the top four seeds. The Knights are seeded No. 2, while the Warriors are No. 4. Both received a first-round bye in the playoffs. First-round matches were played Tuesday.
"It's nice to have a first-round bye," said Warden, who did not give his squad a night off. "We had a scrimmage with Ambridge, the top team in the Class AA bracket. We did the same thing last year."
Six-time defending WPIAL champion North Allegheny is the top seed in Class AAA.
"North Allegheny is obviously the team to beat," Warden said. "But we can't be concerned with them now. We have to win two matches to get another shot at them in the finals."
Norwin plays host to Peters Township in tonight's quarterfinals, at 7:30 p.m. Peters Township, the Section 1 runner-up, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-2 win against Pine-Richland in Tuesday's first round.
"Our regular-season finale against Penn-Trafford was a nice momentum builder," Warden said. "We're hoping that momentum will carry over to the quarterfinals, and hopefully the semifinals."
Penn-Trafford will face No. 5 seed Fox Chapel in its quarterfinal match, which will take place at 6 p.m. today at Derry Area. Fox Chapel advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win against Baldwin.
"Our loss to Norwin was disappointing, but it's over and done," Penn-Trafford coach Jim Schall said. "We've moved on from that. It's nice to have a first-round bye, but we've got a tough quarterfinal draw in Fox Chapel."
Derry is seeded No. 2 in the Class AA bracket. The Trojans lost a five-set marathon to Ambridge in last year's title match. The Bridgers are again the team to beat, as they've won four of the past five titles.
"We haven't played Ambridge since the first weekend of the season," said Derry coach Shawn Spencer, referring to their meeting at the season-opening North Allegheny tournament. "They beat us twice in pool play, then beat us in two more sets in the semifinals. All four games were close."
Derry plays host to Section 3 champion Keystone Oaks in tonight's quarterfinals, at 7:30 p.m. Keystone Oaks posted a 3-0 win against St. Joseph in the first round.