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High School Sports

Hempfield volleyball team happy with start

| Sunday, April 9, 2006

Hempfield moved into the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches' Association top-20 rankings with a victory against Norwin during a preseason tournament.

Later, Hempfield solidified its position with a five-set victory against Norwin in the Section 5 opener.

That doesn't mean Hempfield places a lot of importance in early-season success.

"All you have to do is look at the NCAA (basketball) Tournament, how there were no No. 1s in the Final Four," Hempfield coach John Howell said. "We want to be recognized, but we don't want to be in the top-10, because we'll have a target on our back every night, and everyone will want to come in and take you down."

Hempfield (3-0, 1-0) has only itself to blame for the bull's-eye firmly planted on its uniforms.

The Spartans have come out of the gate with a vengeance, going from unranked to 14th on the strength of a pair of wins over No. 4 Norwin. In both games, a solid service game and strong play at the net were at the root of the victories.

Not that anyone is ready to concede a championship plaque to Hempfield only one game into the regular season.

"I think this section, from top to bottom, has some very good volleyball," Norwin coach Al Warden said. "Everybody knew what we had, but I think people are a little bit surprised that Hempfield was as good as they were.

"But we saw them over the winter when a bunch of the guys got together. So, we knew what Hempfield had."

Even without impromptu scrimmages and their meeting in the preseason tournament, Norwin had a good idea of the caliber of Hempfield's team. It was Norwin that ended Hempfield's shot at a 2005 WPIAL title with a 3-0 victory in the semifinals.

Despite both teams' success in the WPIAL and PIAA tournaments last year, neither coach believes Section 5 gets its due.

"I think it's about time we got a little respect," Howell said. "I think, last year, we had a quality team and wasn't recognized at all, and it was hard to see that. But I think the teams in our section make us better every night."

Hempfield went into the WPIAL playoffs last season as the third-place team from Section 5, behind Norwin and Derry. Its 7-5 overall record wasn't enough to garner attention, and Hempfield was forced into a play-in game against Keystone Oaks to get into the bracket.

"It's weird, but I don't think Westmoreland County gets enough credit," Warden said. "Derry was a powerhouse for a bunch of years, and we've had a few good years. And Hempfield was in the final four of the WPIAL last year, but sometimes, I don't think that they think we play as well."

Part of the reason is simple geography. Of the 39 schools that field boys volleyball teams, only five are from Westmoreland County, and all are in the same section. Without geographic diversity, the teams have to be content with beating each other until the occasional weekend tournament that includes some of the better teams from the region.

"I just think there are so many good teams from Allegheny County that they kind of ignore us sometimes, because I don't think they get to see us as often as they get to see some other teams," Warden said. "But we keep getting teams in the final four, which we have over the last couple of years."

Section 5 might be one reason for that.

"On the whole, that's what makes these teams better for the WPIAL," Howell said. "It's such a tough section night after night after night, and you've got to play so hard."

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