North Allegheny, Ambridge facing familiar title-game foes
If recent history is any indication, the fact the North Allegheny and Ambridge boys volleyball teams are playing for a WPIAL championship should come as no surprise.
That trend will continue Thursday, as the top-seeded Tigers take on Norwin at 8 p.m. in the Class AAA final, and the Bridgers match up against Derry at 6 p.m. in Class AA, both at Baldwin.
North Allegheny (13-1) is aiming for its eighth consecutive title and 10th in the last 11 years.
“We just look at it as we want to go win each match that we play and we don't really look too much into big picture, or championships or anything like that,” NA coach Dan Schall said.
Playing a rematch of the 2012 WPIAL final and last year's PIAA first-round match, Norwin (14-0) and coach Al Warden have not had much success against North Allegheny.
“They have pretty much dominated us,” he said. “We've played with them … just haven't found a way to beat them in a match at this point.”
Warden cited ball control and his team's ability to serve effectively as keys to the game. North Allegheny's offense, led by outside hitters David Haus and Mitch Higgins, was able to control the match when the two teams met earlier this year, a match won 3-1 by the Tigers.
“We as a team just have a ton of respect for those guys,” Schall said of Norwin. “They're in the hunt year in and year out. Al (Warden) and his staff, they do a great job. I think it's going to be a great match.”
Ambridge (9-1), the winner of the last two WPIAL Class AA titles and five of the last six, also finds itself paired against a familiar foe.
The Bridgers have defeated Derry (10-0) in the last two WPIAL title games and three of the last four. According to Ambridge coach Glenn Freed, the matchup between the league's top two ranked teams always brings about a good contest.
“It's really fun playing them,” Freed said. “We have a good relationship with them. … It's really good competition, and that's what we like. We want to keep competing. They're a very good team, we're a very good team, so just that battle back and forth is always fun.”
Led by Lee Smith and Brandon Buck this season, Ambridge has established itself as a WPIAL powerhouse, but Freed has avoided any type of complacency that might affect his players.
“Only coming in second place in the state last year, the guys made a pact to each other that they were going to do whatever they could, work as hard as they could to win another WPIAL and take that next step in the state championship,” Freed said.
Upsetting the two-time defending champions will be no small task for Derry, which dropped a 3-0 decision to the Bridgers earlier this season, but coach Shawn Spencer identified two key aspects that can help his team win its first WPIAL title since 1995.
“I think one, we have to be loose and relaxed,” he said. “As far as that goes, if we're able to do that I think we'll have some success, and then the other thing is we've just got to play to win rather than play not to lose.”
In the consolation matches, Bethel Park will play Fox Chapel at 6 p.m. in Class AAA, and OLSH will face Beaver County Christian at 8 in Class AA. The winners advance to the state tournament.
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.