West Xtra: Surprise team could win Class AA volleyball title

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Beaver County Christian boys volleyball coach Christen Adels likens her squad to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We're just like the Penguins," Adels said. "We play like a team that's capable of winning a title, but tend to lose focus."

A good example of this was the tournament Saturday at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

"We didn't play well in pool play, but looked like a different team in the playoff rounds," Adels said. "We beat OLSH in the semifinals and Ambridge in the championship.

"That's just what the Penguins have been doing. They lose focus for a period and play well the rest of the game.

"Coach [Dan] Bylsma keeps stressing that the Penguins have to play 60 minutes without losing focus. I've been stressing the same thing."

Another example of Beaver County Christian losing focus came in the second half of play in Class AA Section 1. The Eagles posted victories against Montour and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the first half, then lost to both teams in the second half.

The opposite occurred in the Eagles' section matches with Ambridge, the two-time defending WPIAL Class AA champions. Adels' squad lost 3-0 to Ambridge in the first half, then closed out their section schedule with a 3-2 upset of the Bridgers.

"That win was huge for our program," Adels said. "This is the sixth year for our program and it was our first win against Ambridge. It's the biggest win in school history."

The WPIAL brackets were released Monday and four of the top five seeds were from Section 1. Ambridge was seeded No. 1 after capturing the section title with a 7-1 record. Beaver County Christian was seeded No. 3 and OLSH was No. 4 after the two teams tied for second place with a 5-3 record. Montour was No. 5, despite a 3-5record in the section.

"I wasn't surprised at all with the seeding," Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. "Our section was clearly the strongest of the three sections. We deserved to have four of the top five seeds."

Derry, the WPIAL's runner-up the past two seasons, is seeded No. 2.

"It's not normal to have four of the top five seeds from one section, but it's justified in this scenario," said OLSH coach Mike McDonald, who also serves as chairman of the WPIAL's volleyball steering committee. "Our section is as strong as it's ever been."

With 12 teams in the bracket, the top four seeds received a first-round bye. The remaining eight teams, including Montour, met in Tuesday's first round, with the four winners advancing to the quarterfinals.

Two of the four quarterfinal matches were held Wednesday, while the other two are being held tonight. Beaver County Christian faced Steel Valley last night, while Derry played host to Thomas Jefferson.

The matches tonight are being held at Ambridge. OLSH faces off against Montour at 6 p.m., while the Bridgers play host to Deer Lakes at 7:30 p.m.

"It's a rematch of last year's quarterfinals," Montour coach Brendon Aleski said. "We were seeded No. 3 last year after beating OLSH twice during the regular season. OLSH was seeded No. 6 and upset us in the quarterfinals. It's a similar situation this year, but in reverse.

"I hope we're the one pulling the upset this year."

Aleski felt Ambridge was a strong favorite to repeat, but has changed his tune after watching Beaver County Christian upset the Bridgers in the final match of section play.

"The Class AA tournament is more wide open than I anticipated it would be," Aleski said. "Ambridge is still the favorite, but Beaver County Christian enters the playoffs as the hottest team."

The winners of the four quarterfinal matches will meet in the semifinals Tuesday, which will be held at North Hills High School.

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