East Xtra: Norwin's PIAA volleyball trip is semi-sweet


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It was a memorable season for Jeff Springer and his Norwin High School boys volleyball teammates, even though they didn't reach their ultimate goal in either postseason tournament.

"At the beginning of the year, we weren't even predicted to win the section [title], and here we are at the state tournament in the semifinals," said Springer, after Norwin lost, 3-0, in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals to eventual champion Chambersburg. "It's not the best ending we could have hoped for, but ultimately it was good."

Norwin tied for third place in the state tournament. The Knights also finished second in the WPIAL.

"We had a great run," Springer said. "Not many teams can say they made it this far. I'm very proud of what we were able to accomplish, especially since nobody expected us to be here."

After losing to North Allegheny in the WPIAL title match, Norwin began its PIAA appearance with a 3-1 victory against District 6 champion State College. The Knights lost 27-25 in the first set, then won the next three sets, 25-23, 25-20, 25-16. That earned Norwin a berth in the quarterfinal round robin, which was took place last Friday at Penn State University.

"I felt all three WPIAL teams would win in the first round," said Springer, also referring to North Allegheny and WPIAL third-place finisher Seneca Valley. "It was a huge surprise to see both lose."

North Allegheny was upset, 3-2, by Lower Dauphin, the fourth-place team from District 3, in the first round. Seneca Valley lost, 3-2, to Chambersburg, the District 3 runner-up.

"You don't want another team to do your dirty work, because we wanted another chance to play North Allegheny," Springer said. "[North Allegheny] beat us twice, once in the regular season and the other in the WPIAL final. It was bittersweet to see them go home after the first round."

Norwin earned its second semifinal berth, and first since 2005, by winning two of three matches in the quarterfinal round robin. The Knights posted victories in their first two matches against District 1 runner-up Souderton (25-20, 25-17, 25-16) and District 11 runner-up Parkland (25-14, 25-21, 18-25).

Norwin faced District 3 champion Central Dauphin in its final round-robin match, but were defeated 24-26, 25-21, 21-25.

"I take blame for the loss to Central Dauphin," Norwin coach Al Warden said. "We had already qualified for the semifinals, but I wanted to let some of our younger kids have a chance to play. We rested some of our kids in the third set."

Two of Norwin's five seniors were recognized on the PIAA Class AAA All-Tournament Team, outside hitter Nate Derry and libero Cody Stitely.

"We have five seniors and all five were starters," Warden said. "We have four of our top nine players back. That's better than this year. We had only two of our top nine players back."

Derry loses in quarterfinals

When the PIAA released the brackets, it was obvious that Pool A was much stronger than Pool B in Class AA.

Derry Area, the WPIAL Class AA runner-up, had the misfortune of being in Pool A.

"When you look at who made it to the championship match, its obvious that our pool was stronger than the other," Derry coach Shawn Spencer said.

Derry lost to Bethlehem Catholic (22-25, 25-18, 28-30) and York Suburban (17-25, 15-25, 13-25) in its first two round-robin matches. York Suburban eventually finished first in pool play and Bethlehem Catholic placed second.

Both teams were also victorious in the semifinals, and Bethlehem Catholic claimed the title with a 3-1 win against York Suburban.

"We had our chances in the first match, but couldn't close it out," Derry coach Shawn Spencer said. "That was the difference. You can't afford to lose that first match in this format."

Derry rebounded with a win in its third match against District 3 third-place finisher Northeastern (25-21, 19-25, 25-23).

"The kids showed some good character by battling back to win the third match," Spencer said. "They fought through some adversity and got it done."

Five of Norwin's top nine players graduate, including outside hitter Jeremy Hauser, who was voted to the PIAA Class AA All-Tournament Team, so Spencer will be looking for suitable replacements for next season.

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