Twenty-three teams were affected by the WPIAL's girls volleyball realignment. Ken Wunderley details the changes in this story.
Three fewer teams will be competing in the WPIAL girls volleyball tournaments this fall.
The WPIAL Volleyball Steering Committee eliminated one section in Class AA in its alignment for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Class AA will now have six sections, four with eight teams and two with seven teams. Section 7 has been eliminated and its seven teams were split among three sections.
"We've eliminated some of the pigtail matches in the Class AA bracket," said Our Lady of the Sacred Heart coach Mike McDonald, who also serves as chairman of the WPIAL Volleyball Steering Committee. "We always had five or six pigtails depending on how many ties we had. Eliminating Section 7 gives us fewer, but stronger sections."
Thirteen of the 46 teams entered in Class AA were directly affected by the realignment. The seven teams from disbanded Section 7 have been placed in three sections.
Southmoreland and Yough have moved from Section 7 to Section 3, along with West Shamokin, which moved up from Class A. The mainstays in Section 3 are Derry, Ford City, Greensburg Salem, Indiana and Kittanning.
"We're going to have to step it up a notch in this section," said Katie Salisbury, the new coach at Yough. "Five of the eight teams in this section were in the WPIAL playoffs last year."
South Allegheny, Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin have moved from Section 7 to Section 6, thus joining East Allegheny, Keystone Oaks, Seton-LaSalle, South Fayette and Steel Valley.
"I don't have a problem with losing three playoff berths, especially since Class AA had a couple weak sections," Thomas Jefferson coach Ron Kelly said. "But somebody is not going to make the playoffs in the stronger sections.
"One thing that bothers me is that we don't have any open dates during our section schedule, since we now have eight teams. It's much harder to schedule non-section matches."
Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward, the other two teams from Section 7, have been moved to Section 5, along with South Park, which moves over from Section 6. The other teams in Section 5 are Brownsville, Charleroi, McGuffey, Uniontown and Waynesburg.
"I didn't understand why we were moved," South Park coach Jesse Panzarello said. "It's tough to create rivalries when you're moving to a different section. We will be doing a lot more traveling, but will have a lot less traffic to deal with. We are the farthest team for everybody in this section."
Obama Academy will be the first City League team to compete in the WPIAL, as the Eagles have replaced Mars in Class AA Section 4.
"My kids are both excited and nervous about competing in the WPIAL for the first time," Obama coach Pete Vitti said. "We used to be the team to beat in the City League. We're not the favorite in Section 4. It will be a big change for the kids, but I feel we are ready. Our goal is to qualify for the WPIAL tournament."
Montour returns to Class AA after two years in Class AAA Section 5. The Spartans have been placed in Section 2, along with Sto-Rox, a member of Class A Section 2 last season.
"We used to be one of the smallest schools in Class AAA. Now we're one of the largest schools in Class AA," said Kirsten Burkes, the new coach at Montour. "It doesn't matter which section we are in. Our goal is to play to the best of our ability regardless of where they put us."
Class AAA will have 35 teams for the second consecutive year, including one team team that moved up in classification. Mars, a WPIAL Class AA champ in 2012, will make its debut in Class AAA. The Planets have moved from Class AA Section 4 to Class AAA Section 3, the strongest of the sections in Class AAA.
"We've moved into arguably the strongest of the Class AAA sections," Mars coach Tami Caraway said. "Every team in this section has a strong program. It will be a challenge for us."
Four other Class AAA teams have changed sections: Fox Chapel, McKeesport, Connellsville and Laurel Highlands.
To make room for Mars, Fox Chapel has been moved back to Section 4 after a two-year stint in Section 3. McKeesport has moved from Section 4 to Section 5 to replace Montour. Connellsville and Laurel Highlands have switched sections. The Falcons are now in Section 1, while the Mustangs are in Section 2.
"Section 4 isn't as strong as Section 3, but it's no cakewalk with teams like Shaler, Oakland Catholic and Plum," Fox Chapel coach Sara D'Angelo said. "In fact, Shaler might be the team to beat in the WPIAL."
A total of four teams moved up in classification: Mars, West Shamokin, Sto-Rox and Laurel.
Four teams also dropped one class: Montour, Apollo-Ridge, New Brighton and Washington.
Apollo-Ridge has dropped to Class A Section 1. New Brighton has moved to Class A Section 3. Washington is now in Class A Section 6.
The only other teams in Class A affected by the realignment were defending WPIAL Class A champion Bishop Canevin and Carlynton, which have moved from Section 6 to Section 2. The two will be joined in Section 2 by: Brentwood, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Serra, Vincentian and Wilkinsburg.
"It made sense geographically to move Carlynton and us to Section 2," Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Walters said. "We don't have to travel as much in this section, but most of my kids are from Washington County, so the parents will have farther to drive. It will be interesting to see how this works."