(Photo: Jonathan Skolada, a 6-foot-2 senior setter, sets up a Latrobe teammate for a shot. Latrobe holds the No. 5 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and defeated Peters Township, 3-1, in a first-round playoff match. Ken Wunderley/Tri-State Sports & News Service.)
Norwin, Derry earn byes for WPIAL volleyball tournament
The boys high school volleyball teams at Norwin and Derry Area have a couple things in common as they enter the WPIAL playoffs.
Both teams are seeded No. 3 in a 13-team bracket, which earned them first-round byes. Both have their sights set on a higher place-finish.
It's the third time in five years that Norwin has been seeded among the top three in the Class AAA bracket.
The Knights were seeded third in 2008 and advanced to the semifinals before losing to eventual runner-up Bethel Park. They eventually placed fourth, falling one win short of qualifying for a PIAA berth, after losing to Penn Hills.
Last season, Norwin was seeded No. 2 and made a return trip to the semifinals before losing to eventual runner-up Seneca Valley. The Knights did rally to beat Butler in the consolation final to earn a PIAA berth.
"This is the second year in a row that we've finished undefeated in Section 3," Norwin coach Al Warden said. "We were 12-0 last year and 10-0 this year. We're very proud of that."
North Allegheny, to nobody's surprise, is seeded No. 1. The Tigers have won five consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles. This year's squad claimed titles at four regular-season tournaments.
"When you consider its past history and it's unmatched performance in tournaments this season, North Allegheny has to be considered the favorite," Warden said. "But Seneca Valley made a name for itself with its win over North Allegheny the final week of the regular season."
Norwin faced North Allegheny in a non-league match a couple weeks ago.
"They beat us in three sets, but the first two were very close," Warden said. "It would take our best effort to beat North Allegheny."
Warden said he doesn't have any firsthand experience against No. 2 seed Seneca Valley.
"We haven't seen Seneca Valley all year, but they must have a pretty strong team to split with North Allegheny," Warden said.
Bethel Park, a Section 1 co-champion, is seeded No. 4, followed by Latrobe at No. 5.
"Section 3 is the only section with all four teams seeded among the top eight in Class AAA," Warden said Monday, also referring to Latrobe, Plum and Penn-Trafford. "That shows just how strong our section is this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see our other three entries win in the first round."
As the No. 5 seed, Latrobe defeated No. 12 Peters Township, 3-1, in Tuesday's first round. No. 7 Plum swept No. 10 Butler, 3-0. No. 8 Penn-Trafford edged No. 9 Baldwin, 3-2.
"We faced Ambridge in a scrimmage on Tuesday," said Warden, referring to the top seed in Class AA. "It was a great tuneup for the playoffs."
Norwin received a first-round bye. The Knights will play host to No. 6 Upper St. Clair in tonight's quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m.
Class AA update
In Class AA, Derry Area is a top-three seed for the fourth consecutive year.
Last season, Derry was upset in the quarterfinals by Ambridge Area after being seeded No. 3. In 2010, the No. 2-seeded Trojans were WPIAL runner-up after losing once again to Ambridge. In 2009, Derry matched its seed by placing third after losing to runner-up Deer Lakes.
"It doesn't matter if we are the No. 2 or No. 3 seed," said Derry coach Shawn Spencer, referring to the fact that the Trojans split with defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Deer Lakes in Section 2.
"If you add up the points scored in both matches against Deer Lakes, we each scored 117. And the final game we played was 15-12. It's that close between us two."
Spencer agrees that Ambridge should be the No. 1 seed.
"If you look at what Ambridge did in the regular season by going undefeated in its section, and it's performance in tournaments, you have to seed them No. 1," Spencer said.
If the seedings play out, Derry and Deer Lakes will meet in a rubber match in the semifinals.
"It would be great if it came down to the rematch, but we both have to get there first," Spencer said. "Neither team can afford to look ahead."
Derry received a bye in the first round. The Trojans will face No. 6 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in tonight's quarterfinals at Norwin at 6 p.m.