Norwin sets out to defend section title
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With the courts cleared from basketball season, the volleyball nets are back up at Norwin and Penn-Trafford.
After promising 2012 campaigns, the Knights and Warriors boys volleyball teams will look to build upon last season's playoff performances as they head into this year.
Last year, Norwin claimed the Section 3-AAA crown with a perfect 12-0 division record before eventually falling to North Allegheny in the WPIAL championship and eventual state champion Chambersburg in the PIAA semifinals. Meanwhile, Penn-Trafford finished fourth in the section with a 7-5 mark and also had its season ended by top-seeded North Allegheny in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Yet both coaches know that in an improved section where some view another 2012 playoff team, Latrobe, as the favorite this year, it will be a challenge for Norwin and P-T to repeat their success from 2012.
“It's a tough act to follow from last year,” Warden said. “The guys are shooting for the section, if at all possible, and they've been working hard. I don't think we're going to be as favored as we were last year.”
Here is a look at how the teams stack up entering the season:
After its 18-4 season last year, the Knights lose three seniors including all-WPIAL players Nate Derry and Cody Stitely. But despite those departures, the cupboard is not bare when it comes to talent this season for Norwin.
The team will be led by two returning all-section players from last season in senior setter Mitch Farabaugh and middle hitter Nick Idele. Farabaugh led the team in assists last season while Idele had a team-high 152 kills along to go along with being named as an all-WPIAL selection.
“I'm looking for those two guys definitely to lead the way,” Warden said.
Those two highlight a seven-player senior class for Norwin, all of whom will see playing time this season.
Another one of those seven seniors is outside hitter Matt Kelly. According to Warden, Kelly and fellow outside hitter and junior Aaron Shaffer will be called upon to play more of a role on this year's team after playing sparingly during 2012.
“That's such a key position so hopefully I can get them up to speed,” Warden said.
While Warden recognizes that this may not be the most veteran-laden team that he's had at Norwin, there are specific aspects the Knights know they can work on in order to get back to the WPIAL championship game and state playoffs like they did a year ago.
“For the most part we're inexperienced,” Warden said. “I've got those couple guys coming back but my goal is to just keep getting better and get more physical as we go.
“If we want to compete and would like to get to the final four or do well in the section, we've got to get physical, start hitting some balls pretty hard and learn how to block some balls. That's what we've been spending a lot of time on the first week and a half or so in the gym to try and get more physical.”
Unlike Norwin, the Warriors return a more experienced team this season after finishing fourth in the section with a 9-7 overall record behind the Knights, Latrobe and Plum last year.
Despite losing six seniors, Penn-Trafford will lean on a new group of seniors this year in outside hitter Jacob Byers, setter Cameron Artz and middle hitter Jesse Paluzzi.
“Jesse and Cameron are seniors so they're our most experienced guys and I think we'll rely on them a lot,” Penn-Trafford head coach Jim Schall said.
The Warriors also return junior middle hitter Sam Kavel, a first team all-section player in 2012. Byers was named to the all-section second team last year as well.
“We have a lot of returning guys and I would hope we would be a stronger team than last year,” Schall said. “We ended up doing pretty well last year and we have a good crew of returning guys so I think we should be better.”
Despite losing to powerhouse North Allegheny in the WPIAL quarterfinals last year, the Warriors were able to take some positives away from their exit from the postseason as they were one of only a few WPIAL teams to even win a set against the Tigers in their eventual 3-1 loss.
Byers and Paluzzi each recorded a team-high seven kills in the game, but according to Schall, the Warriors might need to rely on their teammate Artz the most this season.
“I think the setter position is pretty important and I think we'll be as good as Cameron can take us this year,” Schall said. “I think it's an important spot and I think he's improved over last year so he's an important guy for us.”
WPIAL section 3-AAA should once again prove to be competitive this year, and Schall and the Warriors are hoping to be able to be included in the same sentence as the top teams as the season progresses.
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.
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