Tri-State Sports & News Service writer Ken Wunderley covered Saturday's WPIAL girls volleyball championships. Read his story below.
It ended the way it began for the North Allegheny, Freeport and Bishop Canevin girls volleyball teams.
All three entered the season ranked No. 1 in WPIAL in their respective classes, and all three collected championships Saturday at the WPIAL finals at Chartiers Valley High School.
North Allegheny, the top seed in the 15-team Class AAA bracket, made its ninth title appearance and claimed its fourth WPIAL title with a 3-0 sweep of No. 7-seed Bethel Park.
"The girls have worked so hard to reach this goal," North Allegheny coach Heidi Miller said. "I've stressed all year the importance of focus and determination. The girls showed both tonight and a gold medal is their reward. I'm so proud of the girls."
It may have been a three-game sweep, but Bethel Park tested the Tigers. North Allegheny opened the match with back-to-back 25-21 victories, but the first game was tied at 21 before the Tigers rallied to score the final four points. The second game was similar, as the match was tied at 17.
"We gave [North Allegheny] all they could handle and I'm very proud of my girls for that," Bethel Park coach Shawn Palmer said. "The difference is that we've never been in this situation before.
"Bethel Park had never been to the semifinals before this year. North Allegheny is always in the playoffs. Their experience in the playoffs was the difference."
North Allegheny's size was also a factor. The Tigers feature four hitters who are 6-feet or taller. Danielle Wall led North Allegheny with nine kills. Ashley Leto contributed eight kills, while Jamie Robatisin and Meg Morningstar each had seven.
Freeport made its fourth appearance in five years in the Class AA final and claimed its second title with a 3-0 sweep of top-seeded Indiana.
The Yellow Jackets dropped to No. 2 in the rankings and seedings after a late-season loss to Knoch, but were avenged in the semifinals.
"It was a total team effort tonight," Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. "The girls were marvelous tonight. They came in prepared and determined to win the title."
The title match was a showcase for Freeport's Zoe Pawlak and Indiana's Natalie Cignetti, two of the top players in Class AA. Pawlak, a sophomore outside hitter, recorded 22 kills and had only four hitting errors. Cignetti, a senior outside hitter, recorded 17 kills.
"Zoe was fantastic tonight," Phillips said. "I've seen her do that so many times."
The first game was tied 19-19 before Freeport claimed a 25-22 victory, with Pawlak recording the final three kills. The second game was tied at 20, but the Yellow Jackets pulled out a 25-21 victory. The third game was closer, as it was tied 23-23 when Pawlak recorded the final two kills to give Freeport the title.
Top-seeded Bishop Canevin and No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic met in the Class A title match for the second straight year, but the results were switched as the Crusaders claimed their first WPIAL title with a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
"I was really worried at the start of the season when I heard we were No. 1 in the preseason rankings," joked Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Walters.
"I was hoping it wasn't a curse. Fortunately, it wasn't. The girls fought all season long to keep that No. 1 ranking. Now we have a gold medal to prove we are No. 1."
The Class A final was the only title match to go five games. Bishop Canevin won 25-17 in the first game, but Greensburg Central rallied to win the next two by identical scores of 25-23. The Crusaders closed out their title with 25-13 and 15-9 victories.
"I knew it wouldn't be easy," Walters said. "Greensburg Central has a very good team. We were just a little better tonight."
The WPIAL's top four finishers in Class AA and A advance to the PIAA Tournament, while the top three qualify in Class AAA. First round play in all three brackets begins Tuesday.
Norwin, the No. 5 seed, earned the third berth in Class AAA with a 25-19, 26-24, 25-18 win against No. 3 Shaler in the consolation final, which was held before the three championships.