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Norwin chases elusive WPIAL volleyball championship

| Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

The Norwin volleyball team began the week in a familiar place: in the semifinals of the WPIAL tournament.

By the end of Thursday night, the Knights hope to have the unfamiliar title of WPIAL champion.

With a 3-0 victory over Peters Township in the WPIAL quarterfinals last Thursday, Norwin advanced to the semifinals for the third straight season and for the seventh time in the past 10 years. Norwin is scheduled to play Bethel Park in the WPIAL semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Baldwin High School.

Even with all their playoff success in recent years, the Knights are still chasing their first WPIAL championship.

“It's definitely a motivation,” senior Dane Hilko said. “We definitely want to win WPIALs this year. (Not winning) was such an upset last year, and then the seniors that we lost (also hurt). But we're definitely ready for this year.”

However, the Knights' primary challenge would likely come in the WPIAL final, as undefeated North Allegheny was scheduled to play Penn-Trafford in the other semifinal match.

North Allegheny is seeking its seventh straight WPIAL championship and 10th in the past 11 seasons. The Tigers gained the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and advanced to the semifinals with a 3-1 win over Latrobe in the quarterfinals.

Norwin lost to North Allegheny, 3-0, in the WPIAL championship last season.

“I think everybody realizes who probably is going to be in that championship, but maybe not,” Norwin coach Al Warden said. “But I think (the players are) pretty well-focused on just one game at a time.”

The Knights and Tigers played earlier this season, with North Allegheny winning, 3-0. Warden said he treated the match as a practice, trying different things the team had worked on and giving his team a chance to see the way the Tigers played.

“It basically (showed) us the rundown of who the hitters are, what the hitters like to do, the sets and how the defense is,” Hilko said.

The loss also has the Norwin players hoping for another shot at North Allegheny.

“You always want to beat the best team,” junior Kevin Zabelski said. “They're so-called the best, so we want to beat them.”

First, though, the Knights have to beat Bethel Park. The Black Hawks are led by Grant Underwood, a first-team All-WPIAL selection in 2012.

Warden said Norwin had a slow start to the match against Peters Township but rebounded to win in straight sets.

“I like the way we're playing,” Warden said. “That was one of our best offensive nights probably in about five matches or so. We scored well (Thursday) night, percentages were really high in regard to attack percentages.

“There's some defensive problems we're trying to address, and that will probably be my biggest thing – just making sure we're playing good base defense and (playing) where we're supposed to be and not running to places we're not supposed to be.”

No matter what the result is Tuesday, the Knights will play Thursday night for the right to advance to the state tournament. The WPIAL consolation match is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Baldwin High School, with the championship match slated for 8 p.m. The top three teams in the WPIAL advance to the PIAA tournament.

Norwin will look to get back to the PIAA tournament after finishing third in the state last season.

“That definitely, I think, was one of (the players') goals,” Warden said. “They know what the teams in front of them have done, so they want to maintain that tradition. They want to go to states.”

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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