North Allegheny's unlikely run falls short in PIAA volleyball title game
UNIVERSITY PARK — At the beginning of the season, North Allegheny coach Dan Schall had his team pegged to finish in the middle of its section.
A few months later, Schall's team was No. 2 in the state after an unlikely run.
The Tigers suffered a straight-sets loss to Central York, 3-0, on Saturday in the PIAA Class AAA championship at Penn State's Rec Hall.
Set scores were 25-17, 25-21 and 25-19.
“Initially, I thought we might be the third- or fourth-best team in our section,” Schall said. “This group just continually set the bar a little bit higher, reinvented goals for themselves and carried us out here.”
North Allegheny (20-1), which has won the past eight WPIAL boys volleyball titles, dropped to 4-10 in PIAA championship games.
Central York (21-0), meanwhile, halted the Tigers' bid at winning consecutive PIAA championships, something Northeastern did in the Class AA bracket.
The three sets Saturday took a little more than an hour and featured just 21 ties and six lead changes.
“They're an all-around great team — blocking, swinging and digging,” senior middle blocker Brendan Brown said. “I don't know how else to say it. They were really good.”
The reigning champion, North Allegheny was as good last year. But only one starter — Brown — and two part-time players returned from that team.
Not that it stopped this year's group from carving its own path.
“I know they're down about the loss,” Schall said. “But when they have some time to reflect, I think they're going to remember a pretty special year that exceeded a lot of people's expectations.”
And there's no shame in losing to Central York, which didn't lose a set in four PIAA playoff matches.
The Panthers knocked off North Allegheny with a combination of strong serving and a frustrating block, which threw the Tigers' many talented hitters off their game.
“The coaching staff and the kids watched an awful lot of film,” Central York coach Brad Livingston said. “We had actually drove out for the WPIAL semis. We thought we had some tendencies and we could release some blockers. I think more than anything, we served them really tough.”
Middle hitter Jason Gardner paced Central York with 13 kills and four blocks. Outside hitter Royce Clemens added 12 kills, five blocks and 10 digs.
Setter Dylan Hose dished out 36 assists. Opposite-side hitter Jeremiah Dadeboe nearly gave the Panthers three players with double-digit kills, finishing with nine.
“Every one of their guys is an offensive threat,” Schall said. “They can beat you from anywhere along the net. They demonstrated that.”
Outside hitter Mitch Higgins paced North Allegheny with 17 kills. Fellow outside hitter David Haus added nine. Setter Antonios Balouris finished with 29 assists, and libero Ethan DeRubbo led with 14 digs. Brown tallied a team-high four blocks.
With the score 17-15 in the first, Central York got a kill from Gardner, forced Higgins into a hitting error and then blocked him for a key three-point sequence.
North Allegheny led 19-18 in the second set before kills from Dadeboe and Gardner (two) and a Tigers hitting error made it 22-19.
There was only one lead change in the third as the Panthers found a groove.
Still, Brown wasn't too worried. Not with how unlikely this trip seemed in the first place.
“We were obviously the underdogs this year,” Brown said. “At the beginning of the year, no one thought we were going to be anything. Just to make it here, to make it to the state championship and compete, was a huge accomplishment.”