The South Park boys volleyball team fell short of the Class AA Section 3 title, but were the most impressive of the section's six teams in the second half.
"We got off to a slow start," said Eagles coach Jesse Panzarello, referring to South Park's 2-3 record in the first half of section play. "We made so many changes trying to find the best lineup. We had a different lineup in every match.
"In the second half, we finally settled down and came up with a starting lineup that allowed us to perform much better."
South Park won four of its last five matches to conclude its section schedule with a 6-4 record. The Eagles finished in a three-way tie for second place along with Thomas Jefferson and Seton-LaSalle.
"We had three five-set matches in the first half and lost two of them," Panzarello said. "We had three more five-set matches in the second half and won two of them. Those matches made us mentally stronger as a team."
South Park was one of 12 teams that qualified for the WPIAL Class AA tournament, which began Tuesday. The No. 9 seeded Eagles posted a 3-0 win against No. 8 seed West Shamokin.
"Now we get to play Ambridge," said Panzarello, referring to the top-seeded Bridgers, who have won four of the past five WPIAL Class AA titles. "We need to play our best match of the year and hope for the best against a team of their caliber. We're looking forward to the challenge."
South Park travels to Ambridge for tonight's 7:30 p.m. quarterfinal match.
Keystone Oaks, the Section 3 champion, was also victorious in Tuesday's first round. The Golden Eagles, seeded No. 7, swept St. Joseph, 3-0, in a match at Upper St. Clair.
"We played our best match of the year," Keystone Oaks coach Michael DiPaolo said. "It's good having that feeling going into our next match. It will not be easy, but I have a good feeling."
Keystone Oaks' next opponent is No. 2 seed Derry Area, last year's WPIAL runner-up. The Trojans play host to the Golden Eagles tonight with a semifinal berth on the line.
Thomas Jefferson and Seton-LaSalle were not as fortunate in their first-round matches. Thomas Jefferson was swept by No. 5 seed Deer Lakes, while No. 6 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart swept Seton-LaSalle.
Thomas Jefferson and South Park each had three players voted first-team All-Section 3.
Outside hitter Justin Palaschak, libero Kevin Parlak and middle hitter Joe Wanker were first-team selections for South Park. Thomas Jefferson's three first-team selections are outside hitter Quinton Gardner, middle hitter Adam Miller and setter Luke Good.
Keystone Oaks setter J.T. Lippert was a unanimous selection for Section 1-AA Player of the Year. Lippert is joined on the first team by Golden Eagles outside hitter Braydon Griffith.
The other two members of the first team are from Seton-LaSalle, outside hitter Eric Marasco and libero/outside hitter Elijah Barrett.
USC, Baldwin ousted
In Class AAA, two of the four entries from Section 1 were eliminated in the first round.
No. 8 seed Upper St. Clair was swept, 3-0, by No. 9 seed Greater Latrobe in a battle of third-place section finshers.
No. 12 seed Baldwin, the fourth-place finisher from Section 1, was swept, 3-0, by No. 5 seed Fox Chapel.
No. 7 seed Peters Township advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against No. 10 seed Pine-Richland. Peters Township advances to the quarterfinals where it will face No. 2 seed Norwin, tonight at 7:30 p.m.
No. 3 seed Bethel Park received a first-round bye. The Black Hawks will face No. 11 seed Seneca Valley tonight at Norwin at 6 p.m.