Norwin volleyball prepares for tough stretch
Jay Grushecky knows the scope of the challenge the Norwin boys volleyball team will face over the next week.
After opening the season 4-0, the Knights prepared to play a stretch of four matches against Plum, Latrobe, North Allegheny and Penn-Trafford — all likely to make the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
Grushecky is more than just looking forward to the four matches.
“I've never been more excited for any volleyball game ever than the next four all together,” said Grushecky, a senior middle hitter. “I think we can do some really good things this year, and that's going to show us what we can do when we're playing playoff teams.”
Norwin began the season by beating nonsection opponent Baldwin and section foes Hempfield, Gateway and Penn Hills, all by 3-0 scores.
While Norwin coach Al Warden said he was happy with the victories, he said the Knights' first four opponents are all rebuilding teams.
“We've looked pretty good against who we've played,” he said. “You can only play (the team) on the other side of the net. What's nice is I've been able to play the lineup. What's bad is I don't know how good some of my decisions are going to be because we haven't played enough good competition yet. I still have some question marks on my starting lineup.”
Early in the season, Norwin is working through its own issues. Grushecky said the team misses too many serves and sometimes struggles passing, but the Knights are improving in those areas.
The team has its strengths, too. Warden said the offense — the fastest one he's run in his time at Norwin — is working efficiently.
“I think the biggest thing is we play very well together as a team,” senior libero Dan Conwell said. “We have six seniors this year, and we've all been playing together for three or four years now. We all are starters, and we all play a substantial amount. We play well together, and we're all pretty good friends. We pick each other up when we need it.”
Although Norwin's early dual match schedule included primarily rebuilding teams, the Knights saw some strong opponents in their host tournament and the Derry Tournament last month. The team won its own tournament and went 10-1 at Derry, beating perennial playoff teams Derry, Fox Chapel, North Allegheny and Penn-Trafford early in the day before losing a rematch against Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals.
“When it came time to play, we weren't ready to play and we got kicked out of the tournament,” Warden said. “Fox Chapel ended up winning that. But we played well for the day.”
“I think it teaches us a lesson that we can't take any game (for granted),” Grushecky said of the loss to Penn-Trafford. “We have to go out and score points no matter who we're playing, regardless of if we're playing Gateway or North Allegheny. We've got to go and have the same intensity and drive to win the game and put points on the board.”
Norwin began its difficult stretch by traveling to Plum on Tuesday. The match ended past the deadline for this week's edition. The Knights will host Latrobe at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and North Allegheny at 7:30 p.m. next Monday before traveling to Penn-Trafford next Tuesday.
The players are looking forward to testing themselves in the nonsection match against North Allegheny, winner of seven straight WPIAL titles. They think the WPIAL is more wide open this season than in previous years.
“North Allegheny was untouchable last year, no matter what anyone threw at them,” Grushecky said. “But this year, as we saw at the Derry tournament, they're not unbeatable. I think that gives us a lot of hope.”