The Ambridge Area boys volleyball team dealt with a major scare even before the WPIAL Class AA playoffs began.
Senior setter Aaron Mueller sustained a knee injury prior to the Bridgers non-section match against North Allegheny on May 10.
"It was a freak accident before our match with North Allegheny," Mueller said. "I was so pumped up for that match. I was so disappointed that I couldn't play, but sitting me down helped get me ready for the playoffs."
Mueller also missed the Bridgers final regular-season tournament appearance at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and their quarterfinal match against South Park.
"That shows you just how deep this team is and how good our chemistry is," Mueller said. "We had a freshman [Anthony Baronio] come in and play amazingly while I was out."
Mueller returned to Ambridge's lineup last week and helped the Bridgers win their second consecutive WPIAL Class AA title. The Bridgers blanked Beaver County Christian, 3-0, in the semifinals, then swept Derry, 3-0, in the title match.
"It's amazing to win another WPIAL title," said Ambridge outside hitter Lee Smith, who was voted the most valuable player in WPIAL Class AA. "We've worked so hard with this as one of our goals."
The Ambridge-Derry match-up was a rematch of last year's final.
"Discipline and commitment are the keys to our success," Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. "That was evident in tonight's match. The kids have worked very hard with the goal of defending our WPIAL title."
After falling behind, 4-3, in the first game, Ambridge dominated by outscoring the Trojans 22-13 to record a 25-17 victory. Four Bridgers had three or more kills in the game, including Lee Smith who had seven.
"We tried to establish the middle and that opened it up for our great outside hitters to get single coverage," Mueller said. "I tried to spread the ball around and make everybody happy."
Derry held a 9-8 lead in the second game, but Ambridge rallied to score 13 of the next 16 points and registered a 25-18 victory. The third game followed the same format, as Ambridge pulled out a 25-19 win to conclude the sweep.
"It was scary when I first heard about Aaron's freak injury," said Smith, who recorded eight kills in the third game and finished the night with a match-high 21 kills. "It was good that Aaron was out only one week. I'm glad the injury wasn't that bad."
Mueller recorded 41 assists in the title match.
"Aaron did a great job of spreading out the sets," Smith said. "Everybody in our lineup is a weapon, and we've got a big height advantage on almost every team we play. That makes it tougher for opponents to defend against us."
Brandon Buck, a junior outside hitter, had nine kills for Ambridge, while senior middle hitter Trent Munk had six.
"It's amazing," said Munk, a first-year volleyball player. "Winning a WPIAL title is a great experience, especially since it's my first year."
Dan Zajac, a senior outside hitter, had five kills and three blocks for a point.
"I was so upset when I heard Aaron was hurt," Zajac said. "I'm so glad that he wasn't out a long time. He did a great job for us all year."
Winning the WPIAL title earned Ambridge its eighth consecutive PIAA playoff berth. The Bridgers played District 10 runner-up Meadville in Wednesday's first round.
"The ultimate goal is to win a PIAA title," Smith said. "And I like the new format. Match play allows us to get some rest in between matches. I'm just excited to see what we can do."
Ambridge advanced to the PIAA semifinals last year before losing to eventual runner-up York Suburban.
"Winning a second WPIAL title is cool, but winning a state title is the ultimate," Zajac said. "Coach told me it's 100 times better."
Mueller was expected to play in Ambridge's match against Meadville, but he's not 100 percent.
"It hurts, but the adrenaline kept me going," said Mueller, after the WPIAL title match. "Having match-play format in the state tournament will allow me to rest in between matches."
First Published May 30, 2013 4:00 AM