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Norwin volleyball begins year with five straight wins

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Norwin's Reilly Parker (20) and Catherine Ferragonio hustle to keep a ball in play during the Knights' season-opening volleyball win over Gateway on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Lillian DeDomenic | For the Norwin Star

For decades, Norwin's girls volleyball team was the school's marquee program in terms of wins and championships. The first two weeks of this fall, the Knights have piled on the wins like those old teams.

Norwin ended last week with a 5-0 record, including a 3-0 mark in Section 1-AAA, and while talk of championships might be premature, this year's team is positioning itself to end a six-year playoff drought.

Nonsection road wins over Gateway and Derry to start the season set the table for a great start to section play. The team picked up 3-2 wins with clutch fifth sets at Hempfield on Sept. 6 and at Laurel Highlands last Thursday, and Norwin won its only home match in the first five, 3-0, over Franklin Regional on Sept. 11.

That has the team's momentum at a high as it heads into the toughest part of its schedule, with matches at section powers Latrobe and Penn-Trafford looming.

“I think the season has gone really well so far. We've come a long way since last year,” senior middle hitter Rachel Keto said.

“A lot of the underclassmen that didn't start last year are starting this year, and we've all blended as a team and become really close,” senior outside hitter Kayla Albert said.

Albert, Keto and junior Catherine Ferragonio share the captain's duties for this year's team, which features an equal mix of seniors and underclassmen among the varsity players.

Keto and Ferragonio both were second-team all-section picks last year, and both are capable of playing multiple positions for the Knights, who have become adept at supporting each other both on and off the court.

“I'd say the team aspect of our play is a big part of us winning, so far,” Ferragonio said. “We're talking more and helping each other out.”

“We really think that we can go far this year, so we're trying to work hard in every practice so that we can match up with every team,” Keto said. “We really want to win this year.”

The team has a deep group of hitters that also includes juniors Hannah Cubarney and Hanna Evanchak, seniors Sydney Black and Magen Caputo and sophomore Laura Buchanan. Senior Emily Best and junior Lindsay Smith both handle setting duties for the Knights, while sophomore Reilly Parker is the team's libero, and senior Rebecca McHugh joins her on the back row as a defensive specialist.

The team's hitting has been its biggest strength, the Knights' captains agreed, but both the front- and back-row players are continuing to work on getting the ball in the right positions for the hitters to put points away.

“We need work with our passing, but we've gotten so much better, just since the beginning of the year,” Albert said.

“We're really good at placing the ball and being smart hitters and smart setters,” Ferragonio said. “We can put the ball down.”

The team did have a few struggles and dropped into the bronze bracket at the Shaler Varsity Tournament on Sept. 8. That showed the Knights still have room to improve ahead of matches with team such as Penn-Trafford, which was the top bracket's runner-up at Shaler after falling in the final against Fort LeBoeuf.

Even so, as the team practices and plays in a gym decorated with signs commemorating the Norwin program's WPIAL and state championships of the 70's and 80's, the players can't help but aspire to put the Knights back on a path toward those sorts of achievements.

“It's a big motivator, looking up there (at the championship signs) and seeing that it's been a long time,” Keto said.

“We definitely want to win our section because we think everybody is kind of underrating us. We'd like to bring back our Norwin name.”

The Knights were scheduled for the first in a key stretch of section matches on Tuesday, after this edition's deadline, at home against Kiski Area.

Norwin then plays Thursday at Latrobe and at home Tuesday against Penn-Trafford, with a nonsection match at Penn Hills in between on Monday. All of those matches begin at 7:30 p.m.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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