Bracket sets up nicely for Norwin boys volleyball team

| Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 12:29 a.m.

Norwin had a pretty good idea that, even with an undefeated regular season and the Section 3 championship in hand, that it would be a difficult proposition to land the top seed in the WPIAL Class AAA volleyball tournament.

Or No. 2, for that matter.

Instead, the Knights settled in as the No. 3 seed and will enjoy a first-round bye before they host the winner of tonight's opener between Upper St. Clair and Pine-Richland at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

“We knew we weren't getting the one because of NA, and NA beat us head-to-head earlier in the year,” Norwin coach Al Warden said. “I kind of figured we'd be three, maybe four (seed), but I figured three and that's where we belong.”

Breaking into the top two would have been a chore indeed. North Allegheny, which pulled in the top slot and second-seeded Seneca Valley are ranked 1-2 in the most recent statewide poll by the Pa. Volleyball Coaches' Association. Despite the fact the two are both in Section 2, the WPIAL playoff steering committee obviously believed that they were the two best teams and seeded them accordingly.

North Allegheny is a five-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champion and has won the title in eight of the last nine years, with the only gap stemming from a 2006 quarterfinals upset to Hempfield that allowed Fox Chapel to win. The Tigers have won 14 titles in all and defeated Seneca Valley in the 2011 finals.

Norwin (12-0) knows from experience just how difficult it is to even get a shot at North Allegheny, much less knock the Tigers from their perch. Last year, the Knights went into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the tournament but lost to third-seeded Seneca Valley in the semifinals and settled for third place and a 3-1 loss to District 3 runner-up Spring Grove in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs.

And they would like nothing better than to turn the tables on Seneca Valley this year and get into that final match with North Allegheny on May 25 at Chartiers Valley.

“Last year we needed to finish and we led all three games, and then we lost, 3-0, and just couldn't finish the deal,” Warden said. “It's a totally different team this year, and they have a different team as well, though they have a few returning pieces, but I just think that we've just got to keep putting points on the board and play a clean game because they're very good.”

To make the sure the team doesn't lose anything and isn't sitting idly by while there are teams competing, Norwin scheduled a scrimmage for today against Class AA No. 1 seed Ambridge. The Bridgers are ranked third in the state by the PVCA, behind only York Suburban and Bethlehem Catholic.

“They have a couple players who will definitely give us a good workout,” Warden said. “They run a lot of the same things that we will see if we can get into the semifinals.”

While Norwin must wait a few days before it takes the floor to begin its postseason run, Steel Valley (4-6) will begin a tough trek through the Class AA bracket at 7:30 tonight against sixth-seeded Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on a neutral floor at North Allegheny. Despite a losing record and a fourth-place finish in Section 3, the Ironmen came away with the No. 11 seed in the bracket.

“After finishing with a 4-6 record in our section, I'll take it,” Steel Valley coach JaQuan McNeil said. “I won't complain. It's a lot better than 16.”

Steel Valley is coming off a come-from-behind victory over section rival Thomas Jefferson that eliminated the Jaguars from postseason contention. The Ironmen trailed, 2-1, in the match and fell behind in the fourth game before rallying for a stunning five-set win.

Riding that emotional momentum into the playoffs is something the senior-laden Ironmen want to rely upon when they take the floor tonight against the Chargers.

“That's a big help there because I think that gave us a lot more confidence to realize that we can play with anybody,” McNeil said. “Just because we're a smaller team, we think that anybody can beat anybody. You can't look at it that we're underdogs, but with the strategy and mindset that you want to win.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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