North Allegheny wins state boys volleyball title, Ambridge falls in finals
STATE COLLEGE — Red-faced and restless, North Allegheny senior Justin Zweig shuffled his feet as he waited for the PIAA medal that eluded him and his classmates during the past three springs.
The Tigers, so close to the PIAA Class AAA boys volleyball apex during the past several years, finally reached the top Saturday, as they defeated Pennsbury, 3-1, to claim their first state title since 1999. They won Games 1, 2 and 4 by scores of 25-18, 25-23 and 25-18, and they lost Game 3, 25-23.
The championship was the fifth overall for North Allegheny (21-0), which took second in 2011 and reached the semifinals when Zweig and his teammates were freshmen.
“If I could use one word to describe this, I'd say it's relieving,” said Zweig, who scored the match's final two points with a block and a kill. “(Since seventh grade), I've pictured what it'd be like to win, especially as a senior. So to have the winning kill, it's just an unbelievable feeling.”
Zweig, who missed last season with a broken left leg, finished with 14 kills and seven blocks in the match.
Tommy Keisling had a team-high 21 kills. Alex Gilsan registered 11 blocks, and Brendan Brown added nine.
Setter Joe Murphy earned 48 assists. He also had 13 digs, while libero Suyash Fulay had 20, and Keisling had 10.
Fully embracing their place atop the PIAA hierarchy, the Tigers and their family members spent more than 30 minutes posing for pictures on the center court.
“I really love some of these guys who came up short, and I feel like this is a medal for everyone,” North Allegheny coach Dan Schall said.
In each game except the third, North Allegheny and Pennsbury (20-1) remained tied or close until the mid-teens, at which point the Tigers pulled away. They turned an 11-11 tie into a 17-12 lead in Game 1. In Game 2, they turned a 15-12 deficit into a 19-17 edge. And in Game 4, they broke away after Pennsbury cut an NA lead to 17-16.
“There have been a ton of games where we're down by four or five, and then we come back,” Zweig said. “We build off that, and then we're almost unstoppable. If we're at our best, good luck to the other team.”
The clash between two of the PIAA's most consistently strong Class AA boys volleyball programs, Ambridge and Northeastern, ended with a mob of orange-clad Bobcats celebrating at center court.
Northeastern secured its second Class AA title — the classification came into existence in 2007 — and fourth overall as it topped the Bridgers, 3-1, in the championship match. The Bobcats (31-3), champions in 2010 and finalists in '07, won Games 1, 3 and 4 by scores of 25-15, 25-22 and 25-22. Ambridge (17-4-1), a state finalist in 2008 and a champion in '09, claimed Game 2, 25-23.
“We played well, but Northeastern is such a great team, and they played well, too, so we knew it was going to be a battle,” Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said.
Lee Smith finished with 23 kills and two aces. Brandon Buck added 10 kills, one ace and a block, while Dan Zajac had three kills and three blocks. All three are juniors.
Reese Devilbliss registered 18 kills, two aces and four blocks for Northeastern, while Stephen Braswell had 17 kills.
As libero, senior Cody Brooks — one of the Bridgers' five seniors — shouldered the responsibility of facing Northeastern's fiercest spikes.
“I was expecting to get hit,” Brooks said. “I'm one of those kids who, I'm going to be where the ball is and I don't care what it hits off. … I don't care if it hits off my face.”
Brooks said he and the rest of the Bridgers faced considerable pressure to reach the PIAA title match after falling in the semifinals last season. The fact Ambridge last reached the championship round when the current seniors were in eighth grade only added to the expectations.
“This was the minimum standard for a satisfying season for us,” Brooks said. “I figured we'd have a little bit of jitters coming in, and I was glad we were able to fight back in Game 2, 3 and 4.”