North Xtra: North Allegheny dominates on march to title

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Four years of disappointment were turned to fulfillment Saturday in the WPIAL Class AAA girls volleyball championship match at Chartiers Valley High School.

After four consecutive losses in the semifinals, the Tigers brought home another WPIAL championship trophy with a 3-0 sweep of Bethel Park.

"We deserve this gold medal," said Tigers senior Ashley Leto, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter. "I played in two semifinal losses, so I wanted to go out a winner in my senior year. We finally made it to the championship match and were able to win a title. I'm so thrilled to be called a WPIAL champion and be a part of a team with such skill. It's just surreal."

North Allegheny didn't just win the title. The Tigers dominated from start to finish. They went unbeaten in 12 Section 3 matches and lost only four games. They also defeated four non-section opponents and were ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL all season.

"I never dreamed it could be like this," said North Allegheny senior Danielle Wall, a 5-11 outside hitter. "I've dressed on the varsity team since my freshman year and we had never made it past the semifinals. To finally get to the championship match and win a gold medal is an unbelievable experience. It's almost indescribable."

North Allegheny, the No. 1 seed, faced three opponents in the playoffs and swept all three. After receiving a first-round bye, the Tigers posted a 3-0 win against No. 8 seed Hempfield Area in the quarterfinals, and advanced to the title match with a 3-0 win against No. 5 seed Norwin in the semifinals.

North Allegheny's size advantage and spread-the-wealth style played a big factor in the title match.

"A lot of teams have two, three, and even four really good players whom you have to worry about," said coach Heidi Miller, referring to the fact that North Allegheny has four players 6-foot or taller in the starting lineup, and two others sitting on the bench. "We've got six or seven players offensively whom an opponent has to worry about. That makes it hard to scout us, and block and defend us. Our kids understand that we don't have one star. With that in mind, our stats are usually balanced."

That was the case in the championship match. Wall led North Allegheny with nine kills, while Leto contributed eight kills. Jamie Robatisin and Meg Morningstar each had seven kills.

"Our height is important, but getting the ball to our hitters is even more important," Miller said. "Every kill starts with a pass and a set. Our serve receive and our passing game must be strong for our hitters to be effective."

Wall agrees with Miller's assessment.

"We have a huge team, but we can't take advantage of our height without good passing," Wall said. "Our passing played a big part in our success. We have an amazing setter and that makes our hitters look good."

It may have been a three-game sweep, but Bethel Park gave the Tigers a run for their money in the title match. North Allegheny opened the match with back-to-back 25-21 victories, but the first game was tied at 21-21 before the Tigers rallied to score the final four points. The second game was similar, as the match was tied at 17-17.

"We gave [North Allegheny] all they could handle and I'm very proud of my girls for that," Bethel Park coach Shawn Palmer said. "The difference is that we've never been in this situation before. Bethel Park had never been to the semifinals before this year. North Allegheny is always in the playoffs. Their experience in the playoffs was the difference."

North Allegheny led by as many as seven points in the third game, but had to settle for a 25-22 victory.

"We've always had good team chemistry, but it just seemed to click for us this year," Wall said. "When we're on the court, we play together and know how to pick each other up."

Miller was obviously thrilled with the title, but wasn't happy with the Tigers' slow start in the first game.

"That's been the way we've played all season," Miller lamented. "We play well enough to win in Game 1, well enough to get on a roll. Fortunately, it hasn't hurt us yet. We can't afford to do that in the state tournament. We can't have a slow start when you get to this part of the season."

The next goal for North Allegheny is to win a PIAA title. The Tigers swept District 6 champion State College, 3-0, in Tuesday's first round.

Wall believes the Tigers can reach their goal: "If we can take care of our side of the net, we're good enough to win a state title."

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