North Xtra: North Allegheny wins another volleyball title

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North Allegheny seniors Tommy Keisling and Joe Murphy became members of an elite club at the WPIAL Class AAA boys volleyball finals last Thursday at Baldwin High School.

Both won their fourth consecutive WPIAL gold medal as the Tigers claimed their seventh consecutive title.

"Tommy and I are now four-time champs," said Murphy, who joined 2010 graduates Michael Krepp and Kyle Gregan in the Tigers four-time-champs club. "We were both members of the varsity as freshmen, but didn't play much."

Both Murphy and Keisling are three-year starters who earned those fourth gold medals with North Allegheny's hard-fought 3-2 victory against Bethel Park in the championship match.

"It's a great honor to finish my career with a fourth WPIAL gold medal," Keisling said after last week's title match, noting this year's title is the one he will remember the most. "The senior year is always the most memorable, but we're not done yet. We still have to go after the state title."

North Allegheny began play in the PIAA tournament Wednesday night against Norwin, the third-place finisher in the WPIAL tournament.

Keisling, an outside hitter who was voted the WPIAL's most valuable player in Class AAA, tied a career high with 26 kills in the title match against Bethel Park. He also recorded eight digs.

"Tommy is just a monster," said senior libero Suyash Fulay, who collected his third gold medal. "There's no other way to describe it. I've played with a lot of different players, and he's the best, by far."

Murphy, the Tigers setter since his sophomore year, had 54 assists, 6 blocks and 12 digs.

"Joe Murphy is such a complete player," North Allegheny coach Dan Schall said. "He's a great setter, but he's also capable of coming up with the big kill, block or dig. And he's an absolutely unbelievable leader on the court."

Keisling was impressed by the play of the entire team.

"It was an awesome team effort," Keisling said. "There's no words to express how proud I am of my teammates. It's just unbelievable."

North Allegheny has won WPIAL titles 10 of the past 11 years, which brought up the word "dynasty" in the post-match interviews.

"I think [dynasty] applies," Schall said. "That's the great work of so many kids who have come through the program. It's a lot of pressure on each team from year to year, and they've responded in great ways. They really embrace the pressure that comes along with being a defending champion."

Justin Zweig, a senior opposite, is a first-year starter who claimed his third gold medal.

"It was really tough sitting and watching my teammates last season," said Zweig, who sat out last season with a leg injury. "I always envisioned this year. I wanted my chance to start. I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to help my team win a WPIAL title."

North Allegheny posted a 25-17 victory in the first set of the title match, but Bethel Park rallied to tie the match at 1-1 with a 25-21 victory.

The momentum from that victory was short-lived, as North Allegheny dominated the third set by a 25-9 margin.

But Bethel Park would not go away. The Black Hawks scored six of the last eight points in the fourth set to pull out a 25-21 victory and send the match to a fifth and deciding set.

North Allegheny jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the final set and held on for a 15-8 victory.

Murphy, Keisling and their North Allegheny teammates have yet to win a PIAA gold medal. North Allegheny has been among the PIAA's final four eight of the past 11 years, and finished second three times, but haven't won a state title since 1999.

"I know we're not supposed to look ahead, but I've been thinking about the state tournament since the season began," Zweig said. "Words can't describe how excited I am to play in my first state tournament."

The winner of Wednesday night's North Allegheny- Norwin match will face either Bethel Park or District 6 champion State College in Saturday's quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined.

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