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Norwin volleyball grows with experience

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the Norwin Star
Norwin's Laura Buchanan (right) hits the ball during a WPIAL Class AAA semifinal match against North Allegheny on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, at Chartiers Valley High School.

In the midst of the program's longest postseason run in more than 15 years, the Norwin volleyball team is dealing with unfamiliar situations — and the nerves that go along with those situations.

While those nerves cost them in a WPIAL semifinal loss to North Allegheny last week, the Knights are also showing the ability to bounce back.

The Knights rebounded from their semifinal loss to North Allegheny by sweeping Shaler, 3-0, on Saturday in the WPIAL Class AAA consolation match at Chartiers Valley High School. The victory enabled Norwin to qualify for the PIAA volleyball tournament, which began earlier this week.

“They started strong (against North Allegheny) and then obviously were getting beat, and then we couldn't seem to get ourselves back out,” Norwin coach Mary Ellen Ferragonio said. “We talked about that (after the match), about being mentally tough and going in that way.

“(Against Shaler), they were able to maintain and talk and have some fun. They had some fun before the match, and I think that loosened them up. Thursday, they were so uptight. Hopefully, they're going to relax a little as we go.”

Norwin's players said they learned a lesson from the loss to North Allegheny.

“It really showed us we need to work hard,” senior Hannah Cubarney said. “I definitely think it was a mind game. It's not like our skills weren't there, but I just think we didn't capitalize on everything we should have. This game, and the last practice we had, we tried to fix those things and capitalize on the other team. We tried to be a little smarter with what we did with the ball today.”

The Knights came out somewhat slowly against Shaler, dropping the first four points of the first game before rallying. The first game turned into a back-and-forth affair before a 6-0 run late in the game gave Norwin all the room it needed for a 25-19 victory.

The second game was even closer than the first, with no team enjoying more than a three-point lead throughout. Norwin had two chances to win the game with a 24-22 lead, but Shaler battled back to tie it at 24. From there, the Knights scored two straight points, capped off by a Laura Buchanan block, to win the game 26-24.

“It's such a mental game,” Ferragonio said. “Once you get momentum, if you let go of that momentum or the other team grabs it and goes, it's hard to get it back in this game. Shaler's a great team. We know so many of them. That (second game) could have gone either way, but I think if we could keep the momentum, we were going to be OK.”

The momentum paid off in the third game, as Norwin again overcame an early deficit. The Knights took control midway through the game with a 13-3 run, running away with a 25-18 victory to close the match.

Senior Catherine Ferragonio led Norwin with 10 kills and 20 digs, but she received plenty of help. Buchanan and senior Hanna Evanchak added seven kills apiece, while Cubarney led the team with three blocks. Sophomore Maria Ferragonio finished with 39 assists, while junior Reilly Parker helped out defensively with 12 digs.

Norwin was scheduled to begin the PIAA playoffs Tuesday night with a road match against District 10 champion Erie McDowell. It will mark Norwin's first PIAA tournament match since the 1990s.

The match ended too late for this week's edition.

“It's exciting to be the team that took us there after all those years,” Evanchak said. “There's a lot of pressure, I guess you could say. But at the same time, it's equally matched by how proud we are and how accomplished we feel.”

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

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