Norwin boys volleyball coach Al Warden is proud of what his squad was able to accomplish during the 2014 season, but was a little disappointed with the Knights' performance in the PIAA tournament.
Norwin, the WPIAL Class AAA runner-up, faced District 6 champion State College in the opening round of the state tournament and fell short in a five-set match against the Little Lions.
"We came out flat and didn't have much focus," Warden said. "We had 15 unforced errors in the first set and 13 in the second set. That was very uncharacteristic of this team. We didn't reach double figures in unforced errors in any set [all season] prior to that."
The unforced errors were magnified even more in the first set, as the Knights lost a close match, 26-24. State College posted a 25-20 victory in the second set to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
"We finally started playing with focus and pulled it all together midway through the third set," Warden said.
Norwin posted back-to-back victories of 25-21 to tie the match at two sets each. The fifth and deciding set was as close as can be as the two teams traded points until it was tied, 14-14. At that point, State College scored the final two points to pull out a 16-14 victory, thus ending Norwin's season.
"It's disappointing because we could have won at least one of the first two sets if we came in focussed," Warden said. "That would have put us in the quarterfinals and a rematch with North Allegheny."
Coincidentally, that was Norwin's first match of the 2014 season that went to five sets.
"State College had gone to five sets in at least three of their matches during the season," Warden said. "It was our first experience with a five-set match. That's one thing that's hard to duplicate in practice."
Losing to State College was disappointing, but Warden is very proud of what the Knights accomplished with a squad that overcame significant graduation losses.
"I was worried coming into the season because we had lost seven players to graduation, including five key starters," Warden said. "What the kids were able to accomplish was a pleasant surprise."
Norwin claimed its fourth consecutive Section 3 title and earned a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA title match for the third time in school history. The Knights' hopes of becoming the first boys volleyball team in school history to win a WPIAL title were dashed by North Allegheny in the title match.
"The kids have a lot to be proud of," Warden said. "And we did it without a great individual player. We had a good group of talented players who all meshed together well."
Norwin must replace six players who will graduate, all of whom were in the Knights starting rotation. The six seniors are setter Nick Nguyen, outside hitters Aaron Shaffer and Jake Klujaric, opposite Kevin Zabelsky, libero Dan Conwell and middle hitter Jay Grushecky.
"They will be missed," Warden said.
Warden used a nine-player starting rotation, which means three key players are returning, middle hitter A.J. Guffey, and defensive specialists Robbie McMaster and Zeke Klujaric.