Penn-Trafford tops Norwin to win outright section title
The WPIAL girls volleyball playoffs officially begin this week, but that would have been hard to guess from watching Norwin and Penn-Trafford play in their regular-season finale.
A high-intensity match saw both teams carry play for long stretches, but in the end, Penn-Trafford clinched the Section 1-AAA title outright by defeating the Knights, 3-1, at home last Thursday.
The teams split the first two sets, but the Warriors carried the last two for a final scoreline of 25-18, 20-25, 25-21, 25-21, which ended their section season with an 11-1 record. Two of Norwin's three section losses came against P-T, but that didn't stop the Knights from finishing in second place in the section with a 9-3 mark.
“It's so exciting to win the section again,” P-T senior libero Samantha McGuigan said. “I can't wait to come back and see 2012 on the (section champions) banner and know that I was a part of that.”
“It feels so great, especially because it's my last season,” P-T senior middle hitter Cassie Patterson said. “One of my goals was to win it again, and (the younger players) worked so hard to do it for me, the other seniors and the team as a whole.”
Patterson had a match-best 20 kills for P-T, while Norwin's hitters were led by senior Rachel Keto, who had 11 kills.
The Warriors jumped out quickly in the first set, 11-4, which forced Norwin to burn an early timeout. Norwin settled in but never cut the margin to less than three, as the home team took the first set.
The Knights came back with a flurry in the second set. Norwin turned a three-point deficit into a commanding 21-16 lead by winning 10 of 12 points, which included six straight points and two aces on the serve of Lindsay Smith.
With the match tied, the intensity rose further for the Warriors, whose players have playoff experience, and the Knights, who already had clinched their first playoff berth since 2006 and were trying for a first section title since that same season.
“It was intense, for sure,” Keto said. “Our hitters are the biggest part of our game, and when we get going like we did in the second game, we can put the ball down against any team.”
Penn-Trafford regained momentum in the third set by mixing up their attack to take a 19-12 lead.
Four players — Patterson, Jen Antill, Alex Heiman and Maria Palarino — all had multiple kills in the early points, and though Norwin rallied to cut the lead to two, 21-19, the Warriors were able to put the set away with an ace by McGuigan and yet another kill by Patterson.
“We have really good communication as a team,” Patterson said. “I'm always talking with Taylor (Solo, P-T's setter) out there and letting her know when I want the ball. If it's not for me, she does a great job sending it outside, and it usually works out for us.”
Both teams tightened up in the fourth set, as nerves began to show. Norwin and Penn-Trafford combined for eight service errors in the set, compared to just five in the first three sets combined, and neither team was able to open up a lead of more than four until P-T finally boosted its lead to 23-17.
Even then, Norwin made one final push with back-to-back aces by Kayla Albert, but Penn-Trafford regrouped defensively after a timeout and avoided a fifth set.
“We made some errors out there that we don't normally make, and it cost us,” Keto said. “We felt like this was our year, and we wanted to win this match. We lost this game, but I don't think we're done yet going into the playoffs.”
“It was a little nerve- wracking,” McGuigan said. “You have to give Norwin a lot of credit because they played really well, but luckily, we were able to win that one and not go to a fifth game.”
The match was senior night for P-T's four seniors — Lauren McGuigan, Samantha McGuigan, Patterson and Antill — and the Warriors won't get another home game, despite finishing first in the section.
P-T was handed a first-round WPIAL playoff match against Chartiers Valley that was to be played at North Allegheny, while Norwin's first playoff game in six years will be at Pine-Richland. Both of those games were scheduled for Wednesday night, after this edition's deadline.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.