So close, but so far away.
That sums up the 2012 season for the Bethel Park High school boys volleyball team.
The Black Hawks almost pulled the biggest upset of the season in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals, then fell one win short of a PIAA berth with a loss in the consolation final.
"It seems a little unfair to have the season end this way after taking North Allegheny to five sets," said Bethel Park coach Tom Allman, referring to the Black Hawks' 3-2 loss to North Allegheny. "We gave them all they could handle, but couldn't close it out. We deserved a better fate."
North Allegheny entered the semifinal match as a five-time defending WPIAL champion and was seeded No. 1 in the 13-team bracket. The Black Hawks were seeded No. 4, but played like a champion for most of the match.
"The first set was the difference in the match," Allman said. "We had them on the ropes, but let it slip away."
Norwin held four-point leads on three different occasions during the first set, but North Allegheny rallied to pull out a 25-20 victory. The same scenario developed in the second set, as Bethel Park led most of the match, but this time the Black Hawks held on for a 25-22 victory.
Bethel Park continued its impressive play in the third set. The Black Hawks built an early 10-4 lead and held on for a 25-21 victory. That left the five-time defending WPIAL champion Tigers one set from elimination.
"North Allegheny may have relaxed after winning the first game and we took advantage in the second and third games," Allman said. "In the fourth game, North Allegheny got used to our offense and we couldn't counter."
Allman was especially impressed with Tigers outside hitter Tommy Keisling, who led all hitters with 26 kills.
"No. 16 [Keisling] took the match into his hands," said Allman. "He played one heck of a game."
North Allegheny coach Dan Schall was impressed with Bethel Park's performance.
"Bethel Park played a fantastic match," Schall said. "They played us as strong as any team we've faced this year. In the end, our past playoff experience was the difference."
The loss dropped Bethel Park into the consolation bracket, where the Black Hawks faced No. 2 seed Seneca Valley. The Raiders were upset, 3-1, by Norwin in the semifinals.
"It was really hard to get the guys up for the consolation final after such a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals," Allman said. "We had a couple good practices [before the consolation final], but I could see we lacked the intensity we had before and during the North Allegheny match. And the fact that Seneca Valley didn't play well in the semifinals didn't help, because they came into the consolation final angry."
Seneca Valley took out its frustrations on Bethel Park by sweeping the Black Hawks, 25-18, 25-18, 25-15.
"They just took it to us," Allman said. "We couldn't counter what they were doing. They overwhelmed us. The deserve to be in the state tournament."
The victory earned Seneca Valley a berth in the PIAA Class AAA Tournament, which began Tuesday. The loss squelched Bethel Park's hopes of qualifying for the state tournament.
"Overall, I'm very happy with our performance for the season," Allman said.
Allman must replace six players who will graduate, including four starters, setter Ryan Dunay, opposite Mitch Pierson and outside hitters Ryan Thorsen and Zach Kinger. Dunay was voted first-team All-WPIAL Class AAA, while Pierson was a second-team selection.
Bethel Park's top returnees are junior opposite Grant Underwood, junior middle hitter Bobby Huntington and setter Vance Blanc.