West Xtra: Bridgers ready for PIAA title match


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Cody Brooks watched Ambridge Area High School win its only PIAA boys volleyball title in 2009.

"It's been my dream to play in the PIAA finals since I was in eighth grade," said Brooks, a four-year letterman and three-year starter for the Bridgers. "I watched the match on TV. I wish I could have been there, but I couldn't go.

"Watching it on TV is not the same as being there in person, but watching my high school win a state title was so exciting," said Brooks, a 5-foot-10 libero. "It was such an intense experience watching it on TV. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience it live."

Brooks will get that chance Saturday as Ambridge is one of the two participants in the PIAA Class AA title match, which will take place at Penn State University's Multi-Sport Facility, at 1 p.m.

The Bridgers will take on Northeastern, the District 3 champion from Manchester in York County. The Bobcats were a 3-0 winner Tuesday against Holy Redeemer, the District 2 champion from Wilkes-Barre.

Ambridge earned its third trip to the PIAA finals with a 3-0 sweep of Derry Area in a semifinal match played Tuesday at North Allegheny High School.

"Ever since watching that [2009] match, it's been my dream to play in the state finals," said Brooks, who had eight digs against Derry. "We came close in my freshman and sophomore years, but lost in the semifinals.

"It's now my senior year and we have a chance to become the second volleyball team in school history to win a PIAA title."

Ambridge has won five WPIAL championships in the past six years.

The Bridgers' title-match opponent, Northeastern, is making its fifth appearance in a state title match. The Bobcats won back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, and again in 2010. They lost in the 2007 PIAA championship match.

Ambridge is making its third appearance in a state championship match. The Bridgers placed second in 2008 before winning that 2009 title.

"Words can't describe this feeling," said Ambridge junior outside hitter Lee Smith, who led the Bridgers against Derry with 16 kills. "It's unbelievable to know that we will be playing in the state title match."

Although losing, 3-0, Derry, the WPIAL runner-up the past two seasons, gave Ambridge all it could handle in the semifinals, especially in the first set. The Bridgers rallied from a 24-22 deficit to pull out a 28-26 victory. Derry's six serving errors proved to be the difference.

"When you're facing a power team like Ambridge, you have to serve aggressively," said Derry coach Shawn Spencer, when asked about the serving errors. "So I expected to have serving errors."

Ambridge jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the second set, but Derry rallied to tie the match at 15. Ambridge scored 10 of the next 14 points to complete a 25-19 victory. The Bridgers closed out the match with a 25-23 win.

"Derry played us tough all night long," Smith said. "We knew we had to come out firing."

Smith received help on the front line from teammates Brandon Buck, Trent Munk and Dan Zajac. Buck had nine kills and Munk had seven. Zajac had four kills and four blocks. Setter Aaron Mueller recorded 29 assists.

"We were in a couple tournaments with Northeastern during the regular season, but we didn't match up in either tournament," Brooks said. "It helps the suspense of the match a little bit. We haven't played against each other, so we don't know what to expect."

Northeastern is led by the Braswell brothers. Steven Braswell is a 6-3 senior outside hitter, while Luke Braswell is a 6-4 junior setter. Both were voted to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA All-State Team last year.

"We've been ranked as the top two teams in the state all year," Smith said. "So it's no surprise that we're meeting in the finals. We're coming for them."

Ambridge's lineup features three all-state players, Smith, Brooks and Buck.



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