North Xtra: North Allegheny philosophy: Deep thinking

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If Dan Schall had to choose one word to best describe the 2013 North Allegheny boys volleyball team, it would be "depth."

"This is one of the deepest teams I've had," said Schall now in his 11th season at NA. "We have 15 kids on the varsity and every player has made a contribution to our success. The players are interchangeable. The drop-off from one player to the next at each position is very little."

North Allegheny has been the most dominant team in the WPIAL the past 15 years. The Tigers have won 10 WPIAL titles and were runners-up three times during this stretch. North Allegheny's performance during the past decade is even more impressive. The Tigers have won nine titles, including six in a row.

"Our goals every season are to win section, WPIAL and PIAA titles," Schall said. "We've already clinched the section title. Our next goal is to keep our WPIAL title streak alive."

North Allegheny has been ranked No. 1 in Class AAA in the WPIAL and PVCA rankings the entire season. With one section match remaining tonight against North Hills, the Tigers are 11-0 in Section 2 after sweeping Seneca Valley, 3-0, Tuesday. They also claimed titles at three of four regular-season tournaments.

"We lost to Ambridge in the finals of our tournament the opening week of the season," Schall said. "Since then, we've won titles at Derry, York and State College. The competition we faced in those tournaments helped prepare us for the postseason tournaments."

North Allegheny's starting lineup features four returning All-WPIAL Class AAA selections, led by Tommy Keisling, a 6-foot-4 senior outside hitter who was voted to the first team. Setter Joe Murphy, a 6-1 senior, was on the second team. Dan Rodgers, a 6-4 senior middle hitter, and Suyash Fulay, a 5-7 senior libero, were voted to the third team.

"We've built our team around those four players," Schall said. "Tommy, Joe and Suyash are three-year starters. Dan is a two-year starter."

Rodgers is joined at middle blocker by 6-4 senior Alex Gilsan and 6-5 junior Brendan Brown.

Justin Zweig, a 6-3 senior, and Adam Haus, a 6-2 junior, have shared duties at right-side hitter.

"Justin missed the entire 2012 season with a broken leg," Schall said. "We're fortunate that he's been healthy this year."

The other outside hitters are David Haus, a 6-2 junior and Adam's brother, Mitch Higgins, a 6-3 junior, and Patrick O'Neil, a 6-2 junior.

"All three have made significant contributions during the season," Schall said. "Patrick is a first-year player learning the game."

The backup setter is Antonio Balouris, a 6-2 junior.

"Antonio is serving as apprentice and understudy to Joe [Murphy]," Schall said. "A lot of teams would like to have Antonio as their starter. He's seen plenty of playing time this year."

Fulay is joined in the back row by three defensive specialists, 5-6 senior Luke Koenig, 5-10 junior Luke Gwaltney and 5-11 senior Shawn Rogers.

"Depth has been a tradition of North Allegheny teams and this year's team is certainly keeping up the tradition," Schall said. "They all have a role and do it well."

Schall has nine seniors on this year's squad.

"This senior class has been to 12 tournaments over the past four years and we've won 10 titles," Schall said. "That's incredible when you consider how much parity there is in the state."

The WPIAL playoffs begin next week. The WPIAL Volleyball Steering Committee meets Monday to determine the brackets. Tournament play is scheduled to begin the following day.

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