North Allegheny, Freeport, Bishop Canevin win WPIAL volleyball titles
North Allegheny's girls volleyball team boasts a wealth of strong hitters, and with a WPIAL title on the line, they all got a piece of the action.
Four different Tigers had six or more kills to send No. 1 North Allegheny to a win over third-seeded Bethel Park, 3-0, in the WPIAL Class AAA final, the final match of the day Saturday at Chartiers Valley High School.
Jamie Robatisin led North Allegheny with nine kills, Danielle Wall had eight kills, and Meg Morningstar and Ashley Leto both had six for the Tigers, who won their first title since 2008 by set scores of 25-21, 25-21 and 25-22.
“In high school volleyball, a lot of teams will have two, three, even four good players, but we have six or seven that you have to worry about offensively, and I think that makes it hard to scout us,” North Allegheny coach Heidi Miller said. “Our kids know we aren't going to have one star, and if we have a night where one kid is the star, we're not playing our kind of volleyball.”
North Allegheny trailed briefly to begin each of the first two sets, but it never trailed later than a 16-16 tie in the second set. The Tigers raced out to a 16-9 lead in the third set, but Bethel Park rallied to cut the lead to 21-20 before the Tigers put the match away.
“I'm proud of them for getting it done in three games, which says a lot about their ability to take care of games when they need to,” Miller said. “The girls have worked hard, and I think they deserve this.”
Bethel Park senior Stacey Kazalas led all players with 14 kills, and the Black Hawks, who were seeking their first volleyball title, produced a solid effort against the undefeated Tigers.
“I think with our girls, you could see the nerves early, and you could see the nerves late,” Bethel Park coach Shawn Palmer said. “We've got that big game out of the way now. Our season's not over, and we just hung with one of the top teams in the state, so we could do some damage in the state tournament.”
Bethel Park opens the PIAA tournament against City League champion Allderdice in the first round at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Carrick High School. North Allegheny will be back at Chartiers Valley the same night to face District 6 champion State College.
In the Class AAA consolation match, Norwin clinched a spot in the state tournament with a 3-0 win over Shaler. A powerhouse with 15 WPIAL titles in the 70s and 80s, Norwin will make its first state appearance since the 90s against Erie McDowell at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Cochranton. The Knights swept the match by set scores of 25-19, 26-24 and 25-18.
Freeport sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak turned in a dominant performance with 25 kills to lead the Yellowjackets to their second WPIAL Class AA title, 3-0, over top-seeded Indiana.
Pawlak's performance also included a block and two aces, as she accounted for 28 of her team's 75 points. Her effort helped to overcome a big game by Indiana senior outside hitter Natalie Cignetti, who had 20 kills.
“I think my teammates realize who the hot hitter is, and we keep trying to set for whoever that is, whether it's me, Megan (Sweeny), Shrek (Alexis Schrecengost) or whoever,” Pawlak said. “They set other people, too, which is great to throw the other team off, but when they set me, I wanted to kill it.”
Freeport, the No. 2 seed, won by set scores of 25-22, 25-21 and 25-23, and all three sets were tied at 19-19 or later. The Yellowjackets' top hitters came up big each time, as Pawlak finished off the first and third sets, and all-WPIAL senior Schrecengost put the finishing touch on the second set.
“(Pawlak) was unstoppable, and I've seen her do that before,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “Once we got to 20 (points), we kicked it into another gear. We played good defense, and we knew what we wanted to do. That's what we call Freeport volleyball.”
The match was Freeport's fourth appearance in the final in five years, and its previous title, in 2010, also came by way of a win over Indiana in the final.
“It wasn't our best blocking performance, and the problem is, in a WPIAL championship it all comes down to one game,” Indiana coach Malinda Oesterling said.
The Yellowjackets will face Hopewell in the first round of the PIAA tournament at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny. Indiana will face the District 6 champion at the same time in the first round at Central Cambria High School.
Top-seeded Bishop Canevin rallied to win the fourth and fifth sets and defeat No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic, 3-2, to claim the first WPIAL Class A girls volleyball title in school history.
Sophomore outside hitter Erin Cunningham led the Crusaders with 19 kills and five aces, and Ashley Grimm added eight kills for Bishop Canevin, which won by set scores of 25-17, 23-25, 23-25, 25-13 and 15-9. Senior middle hitter Leah Bisignani led GCC with 19 kills and seven blocks.
The final was a rematch of last year's Class A championship, which GCC won in straight sets.
“I think experience was the difference this time,” Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Walters said. “We have eight seniors that have been here before, and they didn't want to leave with silver again.”
Canevin took the first set this time around, but GCC rallied from trailing 23-20 in the second and 22-20 in the third to take a 2-1 lead.
Bishop Canevin quickly opened an 8-2 lead in the fourth set, and that momentum carried through the rest of the match for the Crusaders.
“We knew if we did what we've been doing all season — serving tough and playing good defense — we could beat that team,” Walters said. “We had the momentum going into the fifth set. Our girls kept playing, and once we got (Bisignani) to the back row, we knew that was our chance because she couldn't hurt us swinging at it.”
Both teams advance to the PIAA tournament's first round Tuesday. The Crusaders will face the District 9 runner-up Elk County Catholic at a WPIAL site to be determined. The Centurions will face D-9 champ Clarion at a location in District 9.
“Mentally, I think they were more prepared to play,” GCC coach Heather Meyer said. “During the year, we've played with a lot more intensity, but today, we just didn't have it.”