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Norwin secures third straight section volleyball title

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 9:30 a.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Norwin Star
Norwin junior Matt Kelly hits the ball over Penn-Trafford blockers during a match at Penn-Trafford High School on May 9, 2013.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford seniors Jesse Paluzzi (right) and Jacob Byers (left) react after senior Alex Zabelsky (on ground) was unable to prevent a Norwin kill during the teams' Section 3-AAA match on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Norwin won, 3-2.

The Penn-Trafford volleyball team stood six points from victory over rival Norwin last week, ready to capture an elusive Section 3-AAA championship.

But with the section title seemingly in the Warriors' grasp, the Knights snatched it right back.

Norwin (12-2, 11-1) rallied from 10 points down in the fourth game then won a winner-take-all fifth game to defeat Penn-Trafford, 3-2, last Thursday in the final regular-season match of the season. With the victory, the Knights captured their third straight section title and denied Penn-Trafford the first in its program history.

“If we played a sixth (game), they'd probably win the sixth one; if we played a seventh one, maybe we'd win the seventh one,” Norwin coach Al Warden said. “I just thought (it was) a really well-played game. I actually started to think we were dead in the water in that fourth game. But they hung in there.”

The win also granted the Knights the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, which began Tuesday night. Norwin will host the winner of Tuesday night's match between Peters Township and Pine-Richland at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

While Norwin celebrated an unlikely victory on its rival's home floor, the Warriors contemplated what coach Jim Schall deemed a “heartbreaking” loss.

“We just kind of broke down, missed a serve and then had a couple bad stretches,” Schall said. “I didn't expect it to be easy, but things were really looking good for us for a while.”

In the second tight match of the season between the two teams — Penn-Trafford won the first meeting, 3-2, on April 26 — the teams battled closely through the first three games. Penn-Trafford won the first game, 25-20, and the third game, 25-21. Norwin took the second game, 25-22.

Penn-Trafford went on an 11-3 run in the fourth game to take a 19-9 lead, and it looked as though the Warriors would finish the match.

“Most times you're up, 19-9, in a game, you're going to win it,” Schall said.

But the Knights rallied, scoring 10 of the next 11 points — including seven straight — to tie the match at 20. From there, the teams traded points until Norwin triumphed, 25-23.

“Everybody just exploded,” Norwin senior Nick Idele said. “We all got so excited and started playing so well.”

The fifth game turned into another back-and-forth affair, with seven ties and four lead changes, before Norwin ultimately prevailed, 15-12.

“We had so much momentum at the end,” Idele said. “That's really what gave us the edge.”

“It's tough (to rebound after the fourth game), but I thought we handled it OK,” Schall said. “It was 12-12 in the fifth, so we didn't fall apart.”

Despite the loss, Penn-Trafford (14-2, 10-2) also earned a bye in the WPIAL playoffs. The Warriors will face the winner of Tuesday night's match between Baldwin and Fox Chapel at 6 p.m. Thursday at Derry. The Warriors then face a potential semifinal matchup against No. 1 North Allegheny.

“I'm worried that whoever lost this game was going to be on (North Allegheny's) side (of the bracket),” Warden said. “Not that the other side is going to be easy, but I think NA is just so far above everybody else. You're going to have to catch them on a down night, you're going to have to play great, and I don't know still if you can beat them. That's why we wanted to be on the other side, because I didn't want to see NA until ... hopefully toward the end somewhere.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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