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NA repeats as WPIAL volleyball champs

| Saturday, May 29, 2004

North Allegheny setter John Kofmehl and Ambridge outside hitter Jeff Sutton shared WPIAL Most Valuable Player honors this season, though neither looked like his usual self in the WPIAL championship match Friday at North Hills.

In Kofmehl's case, it was simply a switch in jersey number to No. 9 since his No. 4 was stolen at the Mt. Lebanon Tournament.

Sutton was not his usual dominant self as he and the rest of the Bridgers struggled with a tough North Allegheny defense most of the match, making uncharacteristic errors.

"I thought our blocking and defense might have forced them into some errors," North Allegheny coach Dan Schall said. "When you get blocked or dug, you try to do some things you cannot do. I thought our defense put them in some uncomfortable situations."

North Allegheny took advantage, beating Ambridge in three games (25-22, 25-19, 25-18) to win its second consecutive championship.

"It feels great, better than the first one," Kofmehl said.

"We went through the season with somewhat of a target on our backs," Schall said. "It's a lot of pressure. It feels great. It's a tribute to our guys, to how consistent they were throughout the whole season."

The Tigers were also very steady throughout the match, and also focused defensively on Sutton, who finished the match with only seven kills and eight hitting errors.

"It was just a tough night," Ambridge coach Dennis Damp. "We've depended on him for so much. He is a lot of our offense. He's a great kid. He works hard every day. This will not stop him."

Ambridge hurt North Allegheny at times in the match with its blocking, particularly senior middle hitter Josh Parisi. Parisi was in on four blocks as the Bridgers jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the opening game, though the Tigers pulled out a 25-22 victory.

"We started out very strong," Damp said. "We blocked them to death. The middle of the first game, the momentum switched a little bit. I think if we take that first game, it might be a different match.

"Give NA all the credit. They did everything we expected, but they did it well. They are a great program. Tonight was their night."

They were also balanced. Senior all-WPIAL right side hitter Brandon Cook led the Tigers with 12 kills and North Allegheny's other all-WPIAL outside hitter, senior left side Steve Donaldson, had eight, but Kofmehl was consistently able to use all of his hitters.

" I thought offensively Brandon Cook and Steve Donaldson were great for us," Schall said. "When you have a good hitter on the right side (like Cook), they have to defend the whole net. Brandon on the right side makes us tough to defend.

"The whole year we were very balanced. When you have five legitimate offensive options, it makes it tough for the other team."

North Allegheny and Ambridge both advance to the PIAA tournament June 4 and 5 in Shippensburg along with Norwin, which advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history by upsetting Central Catholic in four games in the WPIAL consolation match, 25-21, 16-25, 25-20, 25-22.

Senior outside hitter Zach McLaughlin led the Knights with 16 kills and Norwin was able to keep the ball out of the hands of Central Catholic's two first-team all-WPIAL middle hitters -- Adam McMahon and Chris Warman.

"Most of these guys didn't see any playing time last year, so I we didn't know what to expect," said Norwin first-year head coach Al Warden, who ran the school's junior varsity program last year. "Our goal was to win the section and now we're going to states. They're thrilled. I'm thrilled. The parents are thrilled. Everybody's having a good time."

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