(Photo: Norwin's Brian Ross, left, and Nick Idele pull off an effective block against Bethel Park during the North Allegheny Tournament earlier this season. Ken Wunderley/Tri-State Sports & News Service.)
The Norwin High School boys volleyball team "made a statement" with Saturday's title at the Plum Invitational.
"We came into this tournament with the goal of making a statement," said Norwin coach Al Warden, after watching the Knights record a narrow two-point victory in the title game. "Winning this tournament shows that we are a team to be reckoned with in the postseason."
Norwin captured the Plum Invitational title with a 25-23 win against Bethel Park.
"We faced Bethel Park in the second round of pool play and lost, 25-20," Warden said. "Fortunately, we came out on top in the rematch. It's great to win such a strong tournament this late in the season."
The round-robin loss to Bethel Park was Norwin's only loss in the tournament. The Knights swept Conneaut Valley, Central Catholic and Baldwin, 2-0, in the first round robin. They also beat Deer Lakes and Plum in single games in the second round robin.
"It's important to be playing well at this time of the year," Warden said. "We have a chance to go unbeaten in the section again. If we can do that, we will be one of the top seeds in the WPIAL tournament."
Norwin has already clinched a WPIAL playoff berth and leads Section 3-AAA with a 9-0 record after defeating Penn Hills, 3-0, Tuesday. Greater Latrobe, which topped Gateway, 3-0, Tuesday, is in second place with a 7-2 mark followed by Plum at 6-3. The Mustangs lost to Penn-Trafford, 3-2, Tuesday.
Norwin plays host to Plum tonight. It's final two section matches are against winless Hempfield Area Tuesday and Penn-Trafford next Thursday.
"If we can go undefeated in our section, we have a chance to be the No. 3 seed," Warden said. "That would keep us in the lower half of the bracket, away from North Allegheny."
North Allegheny, the top ranked team in Class AAA, has won five consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles. Seneca Valley, last year's runner-up, is No. 2, while Upper St. Clair is No. 3, and Norwin No. 4.
Norwin took a break from its section schedule on Monday with a non-league match against North Allegheny. The Tigers showed why they are ranked No. 1, as they swept the Knights, 3-0.
"North Allegheny is ranked No. 19 in the country," Warden said. "Anything is possible in the playoffs, but it will be tough to beat North Allegheny."
Warden uses a nine-player rotation, which includes four returning lettermen. Nate Derry and Cody Stitely are returning starters, while Jeff Springer and Mitch Fairbaugh are returning lettermen.
Derry, a 6-foot-5 senior middle hitter, and Stitely, a 5-10 senior libero, were voted to second-team All-Section 3-AAA last year.
"Nate is the best middle hitter in the section," Warden said. "Cody is a four-year starter who played in the back row his first two years, then switched to libero last season."
Springer is a 6-1 senior outside hitter. Farabaugh is a 6-1 junior setter.
"Jeff lettered last year as a defensive and serving specialist. This year, he's playing in the front row also," Warden said. "Mitch was our backup setter last year. I tried to give him playing time when we had matches decided. He's done very well this year in the starting role."
Farabaugh's favorite targets are Derry and Nick Idele, a 6-5 junior middle hitter.
"Nick is a basketball player who played JV ball for us last year on the right side," Warden said. "A few weeks into this season, we decided to move Nick to the middle. He was too good of an athlete to keep him on the right side."
Other newcomers to the starting rotation are 5-10 sophomore setter Nick Nguyen, 5-11 junior outside hitter Dane Hilko, 6-3 senior opposite Brian Ross and 5-10 senior outside hitter Chad Brough.