The Norwin High School boys volleyball team couldn't have asked for a better start in the WPIAL Class AAA title match last Thursday against North Allegheny.
Unfortunately, the Knights' great start didn't result in a victory.
Norwin shocked North Allegheny by jumping to a 10-3 lead and then matching the seven-point advantage four more times in the first set, including a 16-9 lead late in the game.
But the seven-time defending champion Tigers didn't panic. With Brendan Brown and Mitch Higgins leading the way, the Tigers rallied to pull out a 25-23 victory at Baldwin High School.
"We couldn't finish the deal," Norwin coach Al Warden said. "We've had trouble this year, even against mediocre teams, finishing the deal. We got off to a great start, but just couldn't finish them off. North Allegheny is a quality team and we couldn't afford to lose that first game."
The disappointment of losing the first game was evident in the second, as North Allegheny blitzed the Knights, 25-11.
"Our serve receive fell apart in the second game and North Allegheny took advantage," Warden said. "When that happened, we became very predictable. We just couldn't get into a rhythm and it showed."
Norwin played much better in the third set and actually held a 20-19 lead, but North Allegheny rallied to pull out a 25-21 victory and claim its eighth consecutive title.
"Nobody wanted to touch the [runner-up] trophy," Warden said. "I reminded the kids that there are 30 other teams in the WPIAL that would be happy to take that trophy home. They had high expectations and didn't reach their ultimate goal, but still have a lot to be proud of.
"This is the second time in three years that we've played in the championship match. That's quite an accomplishment."
Norwin was seeded No. 2 in the 13-team Class AAA bracket. The Knights received a bye in the first round, then posted a 3-1 victory against No. 7 Butler in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Warden's squad defeated Fox Chapel, 3-1.
"We may have lost, but we're not done," Warden reminded. "We still have a chance to make some noise in the state tournament."
Norwin earned its fourth consecutive PIAA berth by placing among the top four in the WPIAL. The Knights played District 6 champion State College Wednesday night in the first round. The winner will face the winner of the North Allegheny-Fox Chapel match, which was also held Wednesday.
"The kids would welcome a rematch with North Allegheny, but we can't look past State College," Warden said. "State College is a regular in the state playoffs."
Norwin had four players recognized as All-WPIAL Class AAA, which was announced before the championship match.
Senior setter Nick Nguyen and senior opposite Kevin Zabelsky were voted to the first team, while senior libero Dan Conwell and senior outside hitter Aaron Shaffer were second-team selections.
"The coaches who voted on the All-Stars did a good job of picking the top players in the WPIAL," Warden said. "All four of our players were deserving of the honor."
Latrobe, Plum and Penn-Trafford each had one player recognized as All-WPIAL Class AAA. Latrobe middle hitter Garrett Kollar was voted to the first team. Plum middle hitter Khaynen Yocca was selected for the second team. Penn-Trafford outside hitter Jarod Zeckowski was voted to the third team.