(Photo: Penn-Trafford's Jacob Byers, right, goes high to spike a shot against Pine-Richland during a match at the North Allegheny tournament earlier this season. Tri-State Sports & News Service.)
Make it five in a row for the Penn-Trafford High School boys volleyball team.
The Warriors have qualified for their fifth consecutive appearance in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, which begin next week.
"We didn't make the playoffs my first five years," said Warriors coach Jim Schall, now in his 10th season at the helm. "Since then, we've become a regular playoff participant and we want to keep it that way."
Penn-Trafford enters tonight's Section 3-AAA finale at Norwin with a 7-4 record and a four-match winning streak. Norwin is unbeaten at 11-0 after Tuesday's victory against winless Hempfield Area. The Knights are trying to go unbeaten in section play for a second consecutive year.
"Norwin swept us in the first half, but we kept the match close," Schall said. "Facing Norwin again, and this time on the road, is a big challenge. It's going to take our best performance of the season to beat them. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Greater Latrobe (8-3) and Plum (7-4) are the other two WPIAL qualifiers from Section 3. Latrobe concludes its schedule tonight against visiting Hempfield, while Plum plays at Gateway.
"I'm not really sure what to expect from the teams in our section in the playoffs," Schall said. "Most of the top players in our section graduated last year, so we had a lot of young teams. Norwin has been our strongest team. It would be great to end section play with an upset."
Like virtually every other coach in the WPIAL, Schall feels five-time defending Class AAA champion North Allegheny is the team to beat.
"North Allegheny has won five straight titles and nobody's beat them yet," Schall said. "Norwin did give [NA] a good match last week. The first two games were very tight, then North Allegheny dominated the third game."
Norwin is No. 3 in the WPIAL Class AAA rankings and Latrobe is No. 6. Penn-Trafford, No. 8, switched spots with No. 9 Plum after the Warriors defeated the Mustangs in a five-set marathon on May 1.
"Plum beat us in three sets in our first-half match," Schall said. "We played much better in the rematch."
Schall has built this year's squad around two returning starters and three others who lettered last season.
Garrett Passante, a 5-foot-10 senior libero, and Sam Kavel, a 6-5 sophomore middle hitter, are the returning starters.
"Sam was a starter last year, but he didn't have to do as much," Schall said. "We mostly used him as a blocker. This year, he's one of our big hitters. He's been really good in some of our matches, but some of our opponents have been difficult for him. As only a sophomore, he's got a great future ahead of him."
Ryan Metro, a 6-3 senior outside hitter, Kevin Petrosky, a 5-8 senior defensive specialist, and Nick Socrates, a 6-0 senior opposite, are returning lettermen for the Warriors.
"Ryan played in the back row last year. This year, we're using him as an outside hitter and all around," Schall said. "Kevin and Nick lettered in back-up roles last year. Both are starting this year and doing a fine job."
Cameron Artz, a 6-1 junior, has taken over the setting duties.
"Cameron was a setter and outside hitter on the JV team last year," Schall said. "He's adjusted to varsity competition very well. He has good qualities and works very hard. It's nice to know that he's only a junior."
A trio of juniors rounds out Schall's starting rotation, 6-2 outside hitter Jacob Byers, 6-3 middle hitter Jesse Paluzzi and 5-7 defensive specialist Ethan Gelpi.
"Jacob has become a big weapon for us on offense," Schall said. "Sam and Jacob [Kavel] have been our main two hitters. We rely on them a lot. And both are underclassmen."
Penn-Trafford participated in three tournaments during the regular season, at North Allegheny, Derry Area and Fox Chapel Area.
"We finished around .500 and qualified for the playoffs in all three tournaments," Schall said. "We made it to the quarterfinals at Derry and Fox Chapel."