For the Warriors, it was close but no cigar.
The Penn-Trafford boys volleyball team came within one set of qualifying for the PIAA Class AAA tournament last season. The Warriors dropped a heartbreaking 3-2 decision to Norwin in the WPIAL's third-place consolation match.
Warriors coach Jim Schall would like to see the Warriors make another run at the state tournament this spring, but realizes it will not be easy.
"We lost six seniors, all of whom played a role," Schall said. "Two of the six were WPIAL All-Stars."
Schall was referring to outside hitter Jacob Byers and setter Cameron Artz. Byers was first-team All-WPIAL Class AAA, while Artz was voted to the second team.
Penn-Trafford may have sustained some major graduation losses, but the Warriors do have seven players back who either started or lettered on last year's squad. The top returnee is Sam Kavel, a 6-foot-6 senior middle hitter who was voted second-team All-WPIAL.
"Sam is one of the best middle hitters in the WPIAL," Schall said. "He missed a few weeks last year with a back injury, but he's healthy now. We try to go to Sam whenever possible. He's clearly our top hitter."
Timmy Vecchio, a 5-9 sophomore, has taken over the setting duties.
"Timmy played a good bit last year, mostly on defense, but I wanted to give him playing time to prepare for taking over as our setter this year," Schall said.
"Timmy is a great athlete. He's a wide receiver on the football team and the point guard on our basketball team. He did a pretty good job over the weekend at the North Allegheny Tournament."
Other Penn-Trafford players who lettered or started last year are 6-0 senior outside hitter Jarod Zeckowski, 5-9 senior libero Dylan Paluzzi, 5-7 senior defensive specialist Michael Spino, 6-4 junior middle hitter Alex Deutsch and 5-11 senior outside hitter Evan Frohlich.
"Jarod is a second-year starter who has improved significantly," Schall said. "He's playing all around [the court] this year. Dylan was a defensive specialist last year. We've moved him to libero this year.
"Alex gives us another good hitter out of the middle. Having Sam [Kavel] and Alex gives us a pretty good middle attack."
New to Penn-Trafford's starting rotation are 6-3 senior opposite Sean Lander, 5-7 senior defensive specialist Michael Kearns and 5-10 freshman outside hitter/defensive specialist Brandon McGowan.
"Brandon is not your typical ninth grader," Schall said. "He's played a lot of club volleyball."
Penn-Trafford opened its season at the 18-team North Allegheny Tournament this past weekend. The Warriors posted an 8-6 record and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Derry Area, a perennial WPIAL contender.
"It was a long day with some great competition. It was a great experience for the kids," Schall said. "We definitely learned a lot about our team."
Penn-Trafford has made six consecutive appearances in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament.
"We've never won a section title," Schall said. "We've finished second and third in our section, but never first."
Schall would like to see the Warriors win that first section title, but realizes they are not favored in Section 3.
"Norwin has to be considered the favorite with four pretty good kids returning," Schall said. "They have to be considered the favorite until somebody knocks them off."
Schall also feels seven-time champion North Allegheny is the team to beat for the WPIAL Class AAA title.
"Until somebody knocks them off, NA has to be considered the favorite," Schall said.
Penn-Trafford had a non-league match on Monday, a 3-0 victory against Pine-Richland, and played at Hempfield on Tuesday in its section opener. The Warriors play host to Gateway today and are entered in the Derry tournament Saturday.