Take a look at the 12-team WPIAL Class AA boys volleyball bracket and it's easy to see which section is the strongest.
For the second time in three years, four of the top six seeds are from Section 1.
"We knew coming into the season that Section 1 was the strongest of the three sections," Montour coach Brendon Aleski said. "So it's no surprise that our four qualifiers are seeded that high."
Ambridge is the top seed for the fifth time in six years. The Bridgers have won WPIAL titles four of the past five years.
"Ambridge has been in a class by itself all season," Aleski said. "They have a veteran squad that features one of the best players in the state in Lee Smith. It will be interesting to see how the injury to their setter affects them."
Ambridge's Aaron Mueller, a 5-foot-9 junior setter, is out with a knee injury.
"Aaron did not play against North Allegheny on Friday," Our Lady of the Sacred Heart coach Mike McDonald said. "And he was on crutches at our tournament on Saturday. Ambridge does have a bye in the first round, but I would be surprised to see him in the lineup [tonight]."
Ambridge coach Glenn Freed confirmed the injury.
"Aaron hurt his knee in a freak accident on Friday," Freed said. "It's an MCL sprain, so he needs rest. Hopefully, he will be back by the WPIAL semifinals or finals."
Freshman setter Capen Brendle and senior libero Cody Brooks have been filling in for Mueller.
"Both have been doing a great job," Freed said. "Cody was a setter in junior high and he's very comfortable doing any role for the team."
Ambridge posted a perfect 8-0 record in the section. Montour and Beaver County Christian tied for second at 5-3. Montour is seeded third in the Class AA bracket, while Beaver County Christian is No. 4. All three teams received byes for Tuesday's first-round matches.
"It's nice to have a night off," Aleski said. "Some of our kids are a little banged up, so they could use the time off. We had a light practice on Monday and will be ready for Thursday."
Montour will face a very familiar opponent in tonight's quarterfinals, at Ambridge at 6 p.m. The Spartans are paired with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the No. 6 seed and fourth-place team from Section 1. OLSH earned its quarterfinal berth with a 3-0 win against Seton-LaSalle in Tuesday's opening round.
"We played OLSH twice in section play and beat them both times, but neither match was easy," Aleski said. "OLSH may not have a good section record [2-6], but they have played well enough to deserve the No. 6 seed."
Tonight's second match at Ambridge features the Bridgers and No. 9 seed South Park, at 7:30 p.m. South Park earned its quarterfinal berth with a 3-0 win against No. 8 seed West Shamokin.
Beaver County Christian will face No. 5 seed Deer Lakes tonight at North Allegheny High School at 6 p.m. Deer Lakes advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win against Thomas Jefferson.
"We are pleased to be in the lower half of the bracket," said Aleski, referring to the fact that Montour and Ambridge would not meet until the title match, assuming both make it that far.
"We've been to the semifinals four times since moving down to Class AA [in 2007]. We beat them in 2007 and 2011. They beat us in 2010 and 2012."
The other two teams seeded among the top six are No. 2 Derry Area and No. 5 Deer Lakes, both from Section 2. Derry was the WPIAL runner-up last season.
"We are better than our section record indicates," McDonald said.
"We played Deer Lakes in a non-section match and gave them all they could handle. We lost in four sets with the fourth set ending with a 28-26 loss."
Derry plays host to Keystone Oaks in tonight's other quarterfinal match at 7:30 p.m.
The four quarterfinal winners advance to the semifinals, which will take place Tuesday at North Allegheny. The title match and consolation final will be May 24 at Baldwin.