Ken Wunderley has this week's High School Boys Volleyball Notebook. Read his story below.
(Photo: Penn-Trafford's Joe Salesi sets up Zach Werksman in the North Allegheny tournament earliest this season. The Warriors are ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL. )
The North Allegheny boys volleyball program will celebrate a golden anniversary when the WPIAL playoffs begin Tuesday. It will be the 50th consecutive postseason appearance for the Tigers.
"Our goal every year is to win a WPIAL title," North Allegheny coach Dan Schall said. "Qualifying for the playoffs is the first step to reaching that goal."
And the Tigers are not just qualifying ... they are winning titles.
North Allegheny has won 16 WPIAL titles and placed second five times during this 49-year stretch. The Tigers won 11 of 12 titles from 2003-14, but fell short of a title berth the past two years.
"Our performance in the playoffs the past two years was a big motivation coming into the season," North Allegheny junior Canyon Tuman said. "We want to be the best in the WPIAL and the state."
North Allegheny enters the playoffs as the most dominant team in the WPIAL. The Tigers began the season as the favorite in Class 3A and have done nothing to change that status. The Tigers entered Thursday's Section 2 finale against North Hills with a 14-0 overall record and won all but one set.
"North Allegheny is the WPIAL favorite," said Penn-Trafford coach Jim Schall, Dan's brother who led the Warriors to their first WPIAL title last season. "We will do our best to be there at the end."
Penn-Trafford entered Thursday's Section 3 finale against Norwin ranked No. 2. The only blemish on Penn-Trafford's record is a 3-0 loss to North Allegheny in a non-league match played April 3.
"Penn-Trafford has a really good team that has the experience of winning a WPIAL title last year," Dan Schall said. "My brother will have them prepared for the playoffs."
North Allegheny's match with Penn-Trafford was closer than the score indicated.
"We lost 25-19 and 25-20 in the first two sets," Jim Schall said. "We led, 23-20, in the third set, but North Allegheny ran off five straight points to win 25-23. It's going to take our best effort to beat them."
Bethel Park, last year's WPIAL runner-up, is ranked No. 3. The Black Hawks are the only other unbeaten team in the WPIAL, as they entered Thursday's Section 1 finale against Baldwin with a 14-0 overall record.
"We haven't seen North Allegheny or Penn-Trafford this season," said Zach Smith, Bethel Park's first-year coach. "Getting back to the WPIAL finals will not be easy, but I feel we can compete with any team in the WPIAL."
Beaver County Christian is a strong favorite to repeat as WPIAL champion in Class 2A. The Eagles have six of the top eight players back from last year's championship team, including three who were voted to the all-WPIAL Class 2A team.
"We've been able to pick up where we left off last year," Beaver County Christian coach Christen Adels said. "Our passing and serve-receive have improved. We don't have any power hitters, but we do have three players who can score consistently."
Beaver County Christian entered Thursday's season finale with a 13-2 overall record. The Eagles' only losses were to Northeastern, the PIAA Class 2A champion the past four years, and Seneca Valley, a Class 3A team ranked among the top four in the WPIAL all season.
"We saw Beaver County Christian at the start of the year at the Norwin tournament," said Brady Shuller, Deer Lakes' first-year coach. "They beat us, 25-7, but we had two kids out of the lineup that weekend."
Deer Lakes, ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL, is unbeaten against Class 2A competition in match play.
"We did face Deer Lakes in one game at the Norwin tournament, but they had some starters out, so we didn't get a true look at their team," Adels said. "That's why I scouted their [non-league] match against Pine-Richland."
Ambridge, ranked No. 3, has won seven WPIAL titles in nine years, but lost to Beaver County Christian twice in Section 1.
"Beaver County Christian has to be considered the favorite," Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. "They have a very solid team that does everything well."