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Norwin volleyball team's season ends in PIAA playoffs

| Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 9:24 a.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the Norwin Star
Norwin opposite side hitter Kevin Zabelski hits the ball over two Penn-Trafford blockers during the WPIAL Class AAA consolation match on May 23, 2013, at Baldwin High School.

After a third-place finish in the PIAA Class AAA tournament a season ago, the Norwin boys volleyball team hoped to make another run to Penn State this season.

While the Knights advanced to the state playoffs via a third-place finish in the WPIAL tournament, a return visit to State College wasn't in the cards.

Norwin (14-4) lost, 3-0, to North Allegheny in the first round of the PIAA playoffs last week at North Hills. North Allegheny swept the games by scores of 25-12, 25-12 and 25-11.

North Allegheny, which won its seventh straight WPIAL championship last month, advanced to the PIAA semifinals with a 3-0 victory over Bethel Park over the weekend.

“It was very disappointing,” Norwin coach Al Warden said. “I would have expected us to have a little bit better showing. It was a tough way to end the season.”

The Knights fell behind early as North Allegheny scored the first seven points of the first game. The Tigers led by as many as 17 points in the first game before a late Norwin run.

“I think they got shell-shocked early on in that first game,” Warden said. “Even when we made a good serve or they shanked the ball, they bettered the ball. It kind of just steamrolled, and we could never gain any momentum from there on in.”

The second and third games looked mostly the same as North Allegheny controlled play for the large portion of both games.

Warden went to a different lineup in the third game, sitting out a few of his usual starters. The move didn't work, and North Allegheny rolled to the sweep.

“My rationale for (the move) was that these guys aren't talking or anything, so let's go with a lineup we've never practiced, which is going to require them to talk to each other before, during and after every single ball in the hopes that it would make them work as one,” Warden said.

“It failed miserably, so that was my fault, but I just thought if I don't do something, we're going to get the same result. Unfortunately, we still did get the same result.”

Despite the disappointing finish, Warden said the Knights had plenty of successes this season.

Norwin won its third straight section championship, losing just one section match in the process. The Knights also advanced to the state tournament for the third season in a row.

“I don't know if we were necessarily picked to win the section again, but we fought, came out on top and took the section by ourselves,” Warden said. “Top three in the WPIAL, state playoffs — (the loss to North Allegheny) hurt that night, but I think after it's said and done those guys are going to be proud of what they accomplished.”

Norwin will need to replace six seniors from this season's team: Mitch Farabaugh, Phil Hartley, Dane Hilko, Nick Idele, Matt Kelly and Josh Vasko. Farabaugh, Hilko and Idele were all-WPIAL selections, with Hilko earning third-team honors, Farabaugh making the second team and Idele getting named to the first team.

Warden, however, has replaced all-WPIAL players before. All-WPIAL players Chad Brough and Nate Derry were among five seniors who graduated after last season.

The coach said he would look to Nick Nguyen, Aaron Shaffer and Kevin Zabelski to take on larger roles next season after all three contributed to the team's success as juniors.

Nguyen split time with Farabaugh as the Knights' setter this season. Shaffer played all over the court in just his second season playing volleyball, and Zabelski contributed to Norwin's offensive success as an opposite-side hitter.

“I'm losing a guy who kind of set the table by passing the ball (Hilko), I'm losing a big gun in the middle (Idele) and just some senior leadership (Farabaugh) — Mitch just played so hard and so well,” Warden said. “I'm losing a little bit of everything that you need to be successful. But we've got some pieces coming back. We'll see what happens.”

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

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