High school volleyball roundup: Familiar faces take home crowns

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It was a double repeat Thursday night at Baldwin High School as the boys volleyball teams from North Allegheny and Ambridge claimed another WPIAL championship. And both teams swept the opponent.

North Allegheny claimed its eighth consecutive Class AAA title and 11th in 12 years with a 3-0 win against Norwin.

"Every title is meaningful, but this one means a little more since it's our senior year. People were doubting us and thought we weren't as strong as last year," said Mitch Higgins, a senior outside hitter who led the Tigers with 15 kills. "We lost a lot of starters to graduation from last year's squad who were really good players. Just to come back and repeat really feels good."

But it didn't start well for the Tigers, who were seeded No. 1 after sitting atop the rankings all season. Norwin, the No. 2 seed, jumped out to a 10-3 lead and matched that several times in the first set, including a 16-9 advantage. But North Allegheny was not fazed.

"They came out firing on top of us and we just weren't ready for it," said middle hitter Brendan Brown, one of the few full-time starters returning this season. "Coach called a timeout [when the score was 10-3] and told us to keep our composure and relax and play our game."

North Allegheny put it all together in the second set and blitzed Norwin, 25-11.

"We just couldn't finish the deal," Norwin coach Al Warden said. "North Allegheny is a quality team and we couldn't afford to lose that first game. Our serve-receive fell apart in the second game and North Allegheny took advantage."

Norwin played much better in the third set and held a 20-19 lead, but North Allegheny rallied to pull out a 25-21 victory and claim the title.

"It's a whole different experience for me than it was last year," said Brown, who was named co-MVP in Class AAA before the match. "We had a whole new team with a lot of players in starting roles who barely saw playing time last year."

Brown had 11 kills and led the Tigers with seven blocks.

Other final

■ Ambridge 3, Derry 0: Ambridge claimed its third consecutive Class AA title and sixth in seven years with a sweep of Derry.

"To three-peat is such a great feeling," said senior Dan Zajac. "This title means even more since it's my senior year."

But claiming that third title was not easy for the Bridgers, despite the sweep. Derry held a 22-19 lead in the first set but couldn't close it out as Ambridge rallied for a 29-27 win.

"I have so much faith in our players," said Ambridge setter Aaron Mueller, who recorded 41 assists. "No matter who we are playing, I believe we can come back and win, no matter what the score is."

The same thing happened in the second set, but Derry built an even bigger lead at 23-17. Ambridge scored nine of the final 10 points to pull out a 26-24 victory and take a commanding 2-0 lead.

"To come back from all that is pretty ridiculous," said Ambridge outside hitter Lee Smith, a Penn State recruit. "Our team just played together when we really needed to."

The third set was tied, 17-17, but the Bridgers outscored the Trojans, 8-3, to pull out a 25-20 win. Zajac recorded the final kill.

Smith led Ambridge with 18 kills and Brandon Buck added 16. Zajac rounded out Ambridge's big three with nine kills and led the Bridgers with four blocks.

"The great comeback in the second set shows just how much we play as a team," said Buck, a senior outside hitter. "We just worked hard and never gave up.


■ The top four finishers in Class AAA qualify for the PIAA tournament. North Allegheny and Norwin will be joined by Bethel Park and Fox Chapel. Bethel Park is designated as the No. 3 seed from the WPIAL after losing to North Allegheny and Fox Chapel is No. 4. All four will play Wednesday in the first round.

The top three teams qualify in Class AA. Ambridge and Derry will be joined by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a 3-2 winner against Beaver County Christian in the consolation final.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart won the first and third games, 25-19 and 25-15. Beaver County Christian claimed the second and fourth games, 25-18 and 25-21. The Chargers claimed the deciding game, 15-13.

The PIAA will release the brackets this weekend.

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