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Norwin volleyball using fast-paced offense to offset lack of height at hitting positions

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WPIAL volleyball standings

Class AAA

Section 1: Bethel Park (7-0), Peters Township (6-1), Upper St. Clair (5-2), Canon-McMillan (3-4), Baldwin (2-5), Moon (1-5), Central Catholic (0-7)

Section 2: North Allegheny (7-0), Butler (5-2), Seneca Valley (5-3), Fox Chapel (4-2), Shaler (2-5), Pine- Richland (1-5), North Hills (0-8)

Section 3: Norwin (6-0), Latrobe (5-1), Penn-Trafford (5-2), Plum (3-3), Gateway (2-5), Penn Hills (1-4), Hempfield (0-7)

Class AA

Section 1: Ambridge (4-0), Beaver County Christian (3-1), OLSH (2-2), Montour (1-3), Hopewell (0-4)

Section 2: Derry (4-0), Deer Lakes (3-1), West Shamokin (2-2), Summit Academy (1-3), Ford City (0-4)

Section 3: Thomas Jefferson (4-1), Keystone Oaks (4-1), Seton-La Salle (3-2), Steel Valley (3-2), Trinity (1- 4), South Park (0-5)

Top high school sports
Sunday, April 20, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

At 6-foot-5, Norwin senior Dan Conwell defies the size of a common libero by about half a foot.

“I don't feel scrutinized,” Conwell said recently. “I think when we get into the game, everybody forgets about it, and you worry about playing your own game, scoring points and winning matches.”

That philosophy is working well for the Norwin boys volleyball team this season.

While the Knights boast “the tallest libero in the WPIAL” and one of the smaller front lines in recent team history, their overall success is continuing this season. The third-place team from the WPIAL in 2013, Norwin won its first six matches of the season without dropping a set and is 7-1 entering the week.

“Without a doubt, they are definitely a different team,” Norwin coach Al Warden said. “I've always had a strength in the middle. The guys that are in the middle (this season) are doing good, but they are not our focal point of offense at the moment. ... This year, our strength is definitely on the (outside).”

Unlike previous years, when Norwin boasted several hitters at or around 6-5, only one key hitter approaches that height this season — 6-6 opposite-side hitter Kevin Zabelski. Other Knights hitters include 6-3 Jay Grushecky in the middle and Aaron Shaffer (6-2), Jake Kljucaric and Zeke Kljucaric (both 6-1) on the outside.

While the Knights are smaller, they play faster. Warden said the offense, led by 5-11 senior setter Nick Nguyen, is the fastest he has run in his time at Norwin.

“Last year, we tried to run a faster offense,” Nguyen said. “This year, we're really running faster on the pins with Jake and Aaron on the outside and Kevin hitting opposite. Jay runs a really fast middle. I think our offense is probably the fastest (it's been) in awhile.”

The fast-paced offense is designed to leave opponents wondering which hitter is getting the ball. It allows Nguyen to sort through his options and find a teammate hitting against a single block.

When it's working correctly, not even Norwin's hitters know who's getting the ball until it comes to them.

“That's the thing about our offense: It's always good because you never know when you're getting the ball,” Jake Kljucaric said. “You've got to be ready every time.”

While the offense is working, the Knights are trying to improve their defense. Warden said the team's smaller height puts a premium on passing, and the team is focusing on improvement in that area heading into the second half of the season.

Norwin's first loss of the season came last week against defending WPIAL champion North Allegheny, and the Knights are hoping for another crack at the Tigers at the end of the season.

“If you'd have told me in January (we'd) be 7-1 and undefeated in the section, I'd say, ‘OK, I'll take that,' ” Warden said. “Our offense is good enough. We need to improve defense and blocking. That's the two areas we're really going to work on over the next week to two weeks.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.




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