North Xtra: North Allegheny meets its match in state final

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When North Allegheny coach Dan Schall shook hands with Central York coach Brad Livingston before Saturday's PIAA Class AAA boys volleyball title match, Livingston told Schall, "We should meet like this more often."

Schall smiled and agreed with Livingston.

For the second time in four years, North Allegheny and Central York met in the title match and the result was the same. In 2011, the two teams faced off for the state title and Central York posted a 3-1 victory.

North Allegheny fans were hoping for some payback in Saturday's rematch. Unfortunately for the Tigers and their fans, the results were the same with the Panthers sweeping NA, 3-0.

"It's a little bit easier when you're playing a team you're familiar with," said Livingston, after the match. "But it's also harder when you're playing friends. North Allegheny and coach Schall are our neighbors in Western Pennsylvania. We attend their tournament every year and they attend our tournament.

"When you're playing North Allegheny, you're playing one of the best programs in the state. It's tough to see them play well and not get a victory. We hope we meet them here again next year."

But that's not the only times the two schools have met in a PIAA title match. They also met in the 1982 and 1985 title matches when the PIAA had only one classification. Central York won both of those match-ups as well, both by 2-1 tallies.

It was the 14th time North Allegheny has appeared in a PIAA final, and its ninth runner-up finish. The Tigers are now tied with Peabody for the most appearances in a state title match. Central York was making its 11th title match appearance and claimed its sixth title.

"One of the things that made Central York so good is that every one of their guys is an offensive threat," Schall said. "They can beat you from anywhere along the net.

"They also served incredibly well, which magnified how good their block was. In most situations, we had only one or two options offensively and their block was tremendous. Every phase of the game they did incredibly well. They are very deserving of winning this title."

The match may have been a sweep, but North Allegheny kept it close in all three sets. The first set was tied 13-13, the second set 19-19, and the third set 11-11. But the Tigers couldn't close out any of the three sets.

Central York outscored the Tigers, 12-4, to close the first set and won, 25-17. The Panthers scored six of the final eight points in the second set to win 25-21. The third set was the same, as the Panthers outscored the Tigers, 14-8, to pull out a 25-19 victory and claim the state title.

"The coaching staff and the kids watched an awful lot of film," Livingston said. "We actually went out and scouted their WPIAL semifinal match [against Bethel Park]. We saw some tendencies with their hitters.

"More than anything else, we served them really tough. That took [middle hitter Brendan] Brown away a little in the middle. It took away their middle attackers. We had a game plan and it worked very well."

Schall agreed.

"They are a very balanced team," he said. "Any weakness you have, they certainly exploit."

Outside hitter Mitch Higgins led North Allegheny with 17 kills, while outside hitter David Haus added nine. Setter Antonios Balouris had 29 assists and seven digs, while defensive specialist Ethan DeRubbo led with 14 digs. Brown recorded four blocks.

Schall was obviously disappointed with the loss, but still very proud of his squad.

"What a group of overachievers," Schall said. "Initially, I thought we might be the third or fourth best team in our section. This group of kids continually set the bar a little bit higher and re-invented goals for themselves. It carried us up here.

"They are obviously a little down about the loss, but when they have some time to reflect, they will remember a very special year that exceeded a lot of peoples' expectations."

The championships returned to Penn State's Recreation Hall after spending the past six years at the other end of campus at the Multi-Sport Facility. Schall is quite familiar with the building, as he played at Penn State, from 1995-99, after watching his brothers, Jim and Mike, play for the Nittany Lions.

"I've spent countless hours in Rec Hall," Schall said. "It's just a closer atmosphere. It's where the big boys play, so just being here is a special environment. The fans are closer and everything about this place is really special. They did a great job of hosting."

Brown, Haus, Higgins and Balouris are four of six seniors whom Schall must replace following graduation. The other two are middle hitter Patrick O'Neil and defensive specialist Luke Gwaltney.

"Our six seniors will be missed. They made a significant contribution to our success," Schall said. "Fortunately, we have six players coming back who were part of our starting rotation."

The six returnees are middle hitter Robert Stiefvater, opposite Jeremy Best, outside hitter Brennan Hennigan, defensive specialists David Henderson and Ethan DeRubbo and serving specialist Matt Nichol. Best will most likely take over the setting duties.

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