Penn-Trafford leads section, wins tournament
Some of the faces are new this year, but the place Penn-Trafford girls volleyball sits at midseason is a familiar one.
The Warriors were 7-0 and alone atop Section 1-AAA entering this week, and their most recent triumph came over the weekend when Penn-Trafford held court to win its own eight-team varsity tournament on Saturday.
That the Warriors haven't slid backward from next year has been an impressive feat, as the team entered this season with only three returning starters from its 2011 section title squad. The success in the first half of the season has been driven by individual improvement from the players, and more importantly, the players' ability to quickly find a rhythm as a unit.
“I think we've really meshed,” said senior middle hitter Cassie Patterson, a three-year starter for the Warriors. “There were a lot of new players, and it takes a lot for a team to come together with so many new hitters. I think we've really done it well.”
Taylor Solo, an all-section and third-team all-WPIAL pick last year, handles the job of orchestrating the P-T offense and bringing the new players into the fold.
“It was different working with so many new players,” Solo said. “I had to learn who could swing when and with what block. I had to figure out who fits best where and how to set for them.”
Patterson, Solo and senior libero Samantha McGuigan were the returners to the varsity lineup, while seniors Lauren McGuigan and Jen Antill both came off the bench to play defensive roles last year.
Along the front row is where the new players have had to step in, including middle hitter Alex Heiman, who saw limited varsity action as a sophomore last year. Antill also has factored in as a hitter this year, while players such as junior outside hitter Maria Palarino have taken on major roles for the Warriors.
“It's been good because the (new) girls know what they're doing,” Patterson said. “We all help each other. I help them; they help me. It's really a good relationship between all the hitters.”
P-T showed resiliency in its tournament, as it battled for three hard-fought sets with Greensburg Central Catholic.
The Warriors began the day in pool play with lopsided wins of two sets each over Marion Center and Steel Valley. To wrap up the pool, P-T faced the Centurions for two hotly contested sets. GCC won the first, 25-18, but Penn-Trafford earned a split with a come-from-behind win, 28-26.
“We're a comeback team,” Solo said. “When we're down, we can always fight and pull off a win. It's good to know that we don't choke under pressure.”
Penn-Trafford and GCC finished pool play 5-1, but the Centurions won the pool on point difference. As the No. 2 seed out of the pool, the Warriors defeated South Park in the quarterfinals and section opponent Latrobe in the semifinals to reach a one-set rematch with GCC, which beat Wilkinsburg and Derry to reach the final.
Just as in pool play, the two teams battled for every point, but the Warriors escaped with the set and the championship, 25-23.
“You always want to win on your home court,” Patterson said. “All the other tournaments, you want to win them, but this one is the one you've got to win.”
The Warriors travel to Laurel Highlands for a section match Thursday before going out of section to face the No. 1 team in the WPIAL, North Allegheny, on the road Monday.
The match with NA will be another tough test for Penn-Trafford, which suffered its only loss of the year in a nonsection match against Fox Chapel on Sept. 24. Between the nonsection schedule and the weekend tournaments they have played — at Mt. Lebanon, at Shaler and at home — one thing this Warriors team will be entering the playoffs is battle-tested.
“(Tournaments) are big because of the teams you get to see,” Solo said.
“I think we have a good chance in the playoffs this year, and playing those other teams motivates us.”
“The tournaments are one of my favorite things during the season because you get to get out of your section and see teams from closer to Pittsburgh, and that's who you see in the playoffs,” Patterson said.
“It kind of gives you a preview.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.