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Playoff-bound Norwin still looking to improve

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader
Norwin seniors Jay Grushecky (left) and Aaron Shaffer await a serve during a match at the Plum Tournament on April 26, 2014.

The Norwin boys volleyball team accomplished one of its yearly goals long before the end of the regular season, but the Knights are eyeing bigger things.

With its fifth straight WPIAL Class AAA playoff berth secured, Norwin (11-1, 10-0) was seeking its fourth straight outright Section 3-AAA title entering the week. The Knights had already claimed at least a share of the title and could clinch the outright championship with a win over Latrobe on Tuesday or Penn-Trafford on Thursday.

“(Playoffs) is always the first goal,” Norwin coach Al Warden said. “With this team, we didn't want to take it for granted, but I kind of figured this was a playoff team. But that was our first goal. A section championship by ourselves is what we're after.”

As the season winds down, Warden is still looking for improvement from his team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. He shook up the team's serving order during the second half of section play. He said the team is working on “serving tougher” as well as blocking and passing.

“I've been trying to beat that in their heads for two weeks now,” Warden said. “If we want to take a big step here, if we want to win something big, we have to block better and we definitely have to play better defense. I don't think we're where we need to be yet.

“It's just a matter of being more disciplined playing defense around the block — putting up a better block, taking away the other team's best option and then playing defense around it.”

The Knights began the second half of their section schedule with sweeps over Hempfield, Gateway and Penn Hills, and they earned a second victory over playoff-bound Plum last week. The Mustangs defeated Norwin in the quarterfinals of the Plum Tournament the weekend before that.

“(It was) a motivating factor, maybe, (that) got the guys a little more focused,” Warden said. “But they also understand one-game eliminations in tournaments sometimes (happen). What's bad is we always have a bye, so we're sitting around waiting to play and then all of a sudden we play. Not to make an excuse — we learned you have to show up every time, but sometimes in one game you're going to lose once in a while.”

Warden said he hoped to see the team stay healthy over the final two matches, as the Knights had a few “banged-up” players.

Norwin would also likely clinch a first-round bye in the WPIAL playoffs with wins over Latrobe and Penn-Trafford. The Latrobe match ended past the deadline for this week's edition, while the Knights will host Penn-Trafford at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Both those guys I'm sure would love to knock us off as section champs,” Warden said. “They're both big (teams). P-T's bigger than Latrobe, but Latrobe is bigger than us. We've got to overcome their abilities to get to those big middle (hitters) and not let their block affect us.”

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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