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Experienced lineup bolsters Norwin volleyball

| Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Norwin's Emily Richie competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Emily Richie competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's Mia Nicholes competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Mia Nicholes competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's Emily Richie and Rachel Zabelsky compete against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Emily Richie and Rachel Zabelsky compete against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's Rachel Langsdorf competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Rachel Langsdorf competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's Megan Miller celebrates after scoring against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Megan Miller celebrates after scoring against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Gateway's volleyball team celebrates after scoring against Norwin Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway's volleyball team celebrates after scoring against Norwin Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Gateway's Claire Thorsen competes against Norwin Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway's Claire Thorsen competes against Norwin Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's Nicole Caputo competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Nicole Caputo competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's volleyball team celebrates after scoring against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's volleyball team celebrates after scoring against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Norwin's Marrissa Farabaugh competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Norwin's Marrissa Farabaugh competes against Gateway Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, at Norwin.

The Norwin girls volleyball team had some growing up to do.

Last season the team had only four seniors on the roster and several new faces had to step into expanded roles. The Knights went 7-3 in Section 3-AAAA play last season before falling to Upper St. Clair, 3-0, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. It was Norwin's first loss in the opening round of the postseason since 2012.

Fast forward a year, and the Knights enter the season with a new level of maturity. Of the 22 players on the roster, 18 are upperclassmen. That includes a class of eight seniors.

“They know what to expect now,” Norwin coach Mary Ellen Ferragonio said. “This team works really well together. They support each other and are very enthusiastic.”

Senior Marissa Farabaugh returns at setter for the Knights. She was an all-section honorable mention player last season.

“She is doing a really nice job,” Ferragonio said. “I think she is playing with more confidence. She has also gotten a lot stronger.”

Norwin's defense has received a boost with the return of defensive specialist Nicole Caputo and outside hitter/defensive specialist Megan Miller, both seniors.

“They are both doing well,” Ferragonio said. “They are playing relentless defense.”

Defensive specialists Mara Donofrio and Skyler Hayden, outside hitters Emily Richie and Sophia Melocchi, and middle hitter Mia Nicholes are all seniors expected to make an impact this season.

The team also has a group of 10 juniors that could see the court this season. This group includes outside hitters Rachel Langsdorf, Rebecca Miller, Victoria Saunders and Rachel Zabelsky. Other juniors expected to make an impact include setter Hannah Horvath, right-side hitter Jameson Stoner and defensive specialist Rachel Milke.

“With the younger group, we have a lot of talent,” Ferragonio said. “We are still trying to find where they all fit best. We have a lot of girls who can do a lot of things. They are well-rounded.”

The Knights enter the season with the two tallest players on the roster being 5-foot-11 Nicholas and Zabelsky. Only three other players are 5-10. Norwin will need to rely on their skill and strategy to counter teams with a size advantage.

“Defensively, we have to be on our toes all the time,” Ferragonio said. “We also have to look at the way we approach offense going against taller girls.”

Norwin has gotten off to a solid start to the season. The Knights topped Gateway, 3-0, on Sept. 1. The next day, the Knights went 4-4 at the Mt. Lebanon tournament with wins over Seton LaSalle, Penn-Trafford, West Allegheny and Fox Chapel. They also dropped a 3-0 nonsection decision to Seneca Valley last week.

Norwin will look to continue the strong start into Section 3. The section should once again be tough with Hempfield looking for a second straight section crown. Latrobe, Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional and Connellsville return teams with the talent to win big matches.

“We can't take any match lightly,” Ferragonio said. “We have to fight the whole way through. I think in the end it helps all the teams in the section to play this kind of schedule.

“The goal is to go as far as we can. If they keep improving the way they are, we hope to be playing for awhile.”

Nathan Smith is a freelance writer.

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