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Record-breaking year ends for Penn-Trafford boys volleyball

| Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Penn-Trafford senior Jesse Paluzzi (center) sets the ball as teammates Jarod Zeckowski (left) and Cameron Artz (right) look on during the Warriors' match against Gateway on Wednesday, March 27, 2013.

For the second time in less than a month, the Penn-Trafford volleyball team stood one game away from establishing a program first. Like the first time, however, the Warriors came up just short.

Penn-Trafford's season ended with a 3-2 loss to rival Norwin last Thursday in the WPIAL Class AAA consolation match at Baldwin. The Warriors led Norwin, 2-1, after three games, but the Knights rallied to win the match and claimed the final WPIAL berth in the PIAA playoffs.

Penn-Trafford, which was seeking its first state playoffs appearance, lost in five games to Norwin for the second time this month. A 3-2 loss to the Knights on May 9 denied the Warriors their first-ever section title.

Despite the disappointing ending, however, the Warriors said the season more for their overall success. The team advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in program history.

“That game (Thursday) really did not define our team this year,” senior Jacob Byers said. “We came a long way. We took the program farther than it's ever gone this year, and we're very grateful for that. We're proud of ourselves for that and all that we accomplished this year.”

Penn-Trafford began the season by winning its first 13 matches, including the first nine in section play, and qualified for the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

A 3-0 win over Fox Chapel in the quarterfinals allowed the Warriors to advance to the WPIAL's “Final Four” for the first time in program history. The team lost to eventual WPIAL champion North Allegheny in the semifinals before the consolation loss to Norwin.

“It would've been great to win another match, but the guys really played hard (and) battled all year,” coach Jim Schall said. “Even with (the 13-0 start), we had some injuries, some significant injuries we had to deal with, (and) some sickness. Guys battled through it. I'm real happy with the way the guys handled the whole year and proud of how much we accomplished.”

The Warriors dealt with the absences of juniors Sam Kavel (back injury) and Jarod Zeckowski (illness) for much of the second half of the year but still managed to earn second place in the section as seniors like setter Cameron Artz, Byers, Ethan Gelpi and Jesse Paluzzi filled in and played well.

“I think the other guys on the team were pretty determined to make sure we play at a high level without them, and they definitely carried a big part of the load while Sam and Jarod were out,” Schall said. “We had some other guys fill in, and (they) did a really nice job. That shows we had some pretty good players behind those guys.”

Penn-Trafford will have to rely on its depth again next year, as six seniors — Artz, Byers, Gelpi, Paluzzi, Tyler Wyckoff and Alex Zabelsky — will graduate from this season's team.

Artz was voted to the all-WPIAL second team last week along with Kavel, while Byers was voted to the first team.

“(Making the all-WPIAL team) was one of my goals whenever I started playing because one of my idols was (2011 Penn-Trafford graduate) Joe Bortak,” Byers said. “He was really a role model for me, and he made (the) all-WPIAL team. I just thought it was such a great achievement to do that.

“When they announced my name, I was just speechless. It was such an honor.”

Despite his graduation and that of his fellow seniors, Byers believes the team has enough talent to take the program to greater heights next year.

And with the way this season ended, motivation likely won't be a problem, either.

“(The Final Four) is a pretty neat atmosphere, and it's nice to be in that situation,” Schall said. “The guys have a better feel for the possibilities and should have that confidence to know that we can get there. It was definitely a good experience, even though we were the last team out. It'll be a new year with new guys, but I think it would have to be motivating for the returning guys.”

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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