(Photo: North Allegheny's Tommy Keisling goes up for the kill in a match with Lower Dauphin in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA Tournament on May 29. Photo by J.J. LaBella for Tri-State Sports & News Service)
For district high school volleyball teams, May 29 was a night to remember ... but for the wrong reason.
North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Deer Lakes entered the PIAA boys volleyball playoffs with high hopes, but all three suffered shocking fates. The highly touted trio all lost in the opening round.
"I really thought we would make it to State College," said Deer Lakes coach Rick Tatrn, referring to Penn State University, site for the remaining rounds of the tournament. "And I expected North Allegheny and Seneca Valley to be there, too. I never thought all three of us would lose in the first round."
North Allegheny coach Dan Schall was also surprised by the opening-round results.
"All three of us played so well in the regular season, while facing some of the best teams in the state," Schall said. "I realize that anything can happen in the playoffs, but I never thought all three of us would lose so quickly."
Seneca Valley had the difficult task of facing the eventual PIAA Class AAA champion in its first-round match. Chambersburg, the District 3 runner-up, rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Raiders, 3-2.
"It's a shame we had to face Chambersburg in the first round," Seneca Valley coach Dan Mountain said. "We lost to them in five sets and only four points (105-101) separated us. A couple breaks and we could have been that team. We just didn't play well enough to close it out."
Seneca Valley entered the postseason ranked No. 2 in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AAA state rankings, while Chambersburg was No. 4. But neither team won their district title. The Raiders lost in the WPIAL semifinals to Norwin, then earned a berth in the PIAA Class AAA bracket by defeating Bethel Park in the WPIAL consolation final.
Chambersburg lost to Central Dauphin in the District 3 title match, then won six consecutive matches en route to their PIAA title.
"We just couldn't stop their big guy, No. 8," said Mountain, referring to Chambersburg's Mitch Stahl, a 6-foot-8 junior middle hitter who was voted the tournament MVP. "And it's obvious that nobody stopped him."
"There's a fine line between not making it to Penn State and winning the tournament," Schall said. "The Seneca Valley-Chambersburg match is a good example of that."
North Allegheny's first-round loss was the most shocking because Schall's squad was a strong favorite to win the title. The Tigers had been ranked No. 1 all season and won four tournaments during the regular season.
The Tigers were defeated by Lower Dauphin, the fourth-place team from District 3. North Allegheny pulled out a 31-29 victory in the first set, then lost the next two sets 27-25, 25-22. The Tigers tied the match at 2-2 with a 25-13 win, but then dropped a 15-10 decision in the fifth and final set.
"Lower Daupin played a fantastic match," Schall said. "They were the underdogs and had nothing to lose. The more success they had against us, the more confident they became. They forced us into errors we don't normally make."
Deer Lakes entered the PIAA Class AA bracket with hopes of defending the title it won last year. But those hopes were dashed in the first round by District 10 champion Cochranton (19-25, 25-23, 22-25, 26-24, 15-12).
"We were on the court longer than we needed to be," Tatrn said. "We won the first set and were tied at 23-23 in the second set, but let is slip away. Then we won the third set. If we would have won that second set, we would have been off the court. Losing that second set kept us on the court longer than we should have been. The longer you stay on the court, more things can happen."
Deer Lakes must replace five graduating players, including three WPIAL Class AA All-Stars. Outside hitters Sean McTigue and Tony Nicotra were voted to the first team, while libero Jason Garland was a second-team pick.
Seneca Valley has nine seniors, including six in the starting rotation. The Raiders have five seniors who appeared on the WPIAL Class AAA All-Star Team. Middle hitter Chad Albert and setter Max McCloskey were voted to the first team, while outside hitters Alex Berner and Brian Pudlo, and middle hitter Eric Speicher were second-team picks.
North Allegheny must replace 10 of 20 lettermen. The Tigers had two seniors recognized on the WPIAL All-Star Team: outside hitter Zach Shaw on the first team; and libero Jared Gross on the third team.