Trib Cup: North Allegheny volleyball chasing 8th straight title
Dan Schall will never grow tired of winning WPIAL championships.
Schall — the 11-year veteran head coach of the North Allegheny boys volleyball team — has led the Tigers to seven consecutive WPIAL titles along with the 2013 PIAA championship in Class AAA.
This year, the Tigers were in unfamiliar territory with a squad of several first-year starters as they embarked on another run at a title.
The result, however, has been quite consistent.
Heading into the WPIAL playoffs, the Tigers boasted a 10-1 record in Section 2-AAA and captured the section title.
The Tigers are this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are part of the reason why North Allegheny is in first place in the Class AAAA standings.
“We have a lot of guys that have been good but didn't get the opportunity because they played behind some talented kids,” Schall said. “I don't think people realized how good they would be when they got the opportunity.
“It's been fun because these kids have jumped at the opportunities and embraced.”
Schall's first task heading into the season was to replace four players that appeared on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State team — Tommy Keisling, Joe Murphy, Suyash Fulay and Justin Zweig.
On Wednesday, the WPIAL released its all-section team and several Tigers starters' names appeared. The foursome of Antonios Balouris, David Haus, Mitch Higgins and Brendan Brown have been the catalysts for carrying on the tradition for which NA volleyball fans have grown accustom.
Outside hitters Haus and Higgins, defensive specialist Balouris and middle hitter Brown — an all-state selection last year — are not typical first-year leaders, Schall said.
“This class has been developing behind the curtain and are very, very talented,” Schall said. “We didn't say this kid would replace this kid or anything like that.
“Collectively, as a whole, we wanted to match what has been the tradition here.”
The tradition Schall refers to is that of a program rich in championship lore that carries certain trademarks that he hopes will be passed from class-to-class.
“North Allegheny has always — and this year is no different — had a talent pool that is deep and comes with selflessness,” he said. “It showed this year with some kids who are truly stars but it was their first year in the lineup.
“They had to wait their turn and fill their roles.”
Schall has the luxury of tinkering with his lineup nightly to ensure the best combinations and also keep the opposition on its toes. On a given night, 12 players can see the court and each player has his own unique attributes that contributes to the greater good of the team.
“I just think that they just really challenged one another day in and day out in practice. That's one of the qualities of our program. A lot of players who go unnoticed are the reason why these guys get noticed. We just work each day and that is our main focus each day. They've really embraced that. The result has been what it is.
Luke Gwaltney, David Henderson, Ethan DeRubbo and Jeremy Best are consistent contributors. Off the bench, Schall sends Patrick O'Neil, Robert Stiefvater, Matt Nichol and Brennan Hennigan to provide that “change of pace” that keeps his schemes fresh.
“They train in practice each day as though they are going to get the chance,” Schall said. “Looking in years past, the combos that worked weren't foreseen in advance.
“I wouldn't be surprised if there is someone who isn't in our rotation who will help us greatly in our run. If their time comes, I'm confident they will embrace it and contribute.”
While a new starting rotation has been an adjustment, Schall and company are in familiar territory and comfortable with their status as the postseason gets under way.
He said each afternoon in practice the goals and mantra are kept simple. Embracing and adhering to his ideologies are what could bring an eighth straight WPIAL title to North Allegheny.
“It's cliché but it holds up … we just prepare for each match,” he said. “It's fun because the matches used to be in tournament format, with the matches spaced out. Now, we have the chance to pass the test and study for the next one and hopefully pass that test again.”
The Tigers are posting a passing grade this year and for the better half of a decade under Schall's reign.
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.