North Allegheny boys face tough test in PIAA volleyball finals

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Friday, June 8, 2018 | 5:02 PM


North Allegheny senior setter AJ Schmidt didn't expect things to get easier for the Tigers after they toppled a perennial thorn-in-their side, Central York, in the PIAA Class AAA boys volleyball semifinals.

The 3-2 victory Tuesday night at Richland High School gave North Allegheny a clearer view at the summit. But planting a flag atop the mountain will require another slugfest with a powerful juggernaut.

The Tigers, who will make their 16th appearance in the PIAA final at 1 p.m. Saturday in State College, will have to take down undefeated District 11 champion Hempfield from Landisville.

During a meeting at the Central York tournament, the Black Knights handed North Allegheny 21-13 and 21-10 losses.

“It's what you expect,” Schmidt said. “You're not going to go to the state championship match and blow out the other team. Our team looks forward to the competition.”

While the matchup didn't count against the Tigers' 22-0 record, it did provide them with some perspective. North Allegheny coach Dan Schall knows his players won't be overconfident.

In a rare turn for the WPIAL power Tigers, who are seeking their fifth title and first since 2013, Schall feels his team is an underdog.

“We know a great deal about them,” Schall said. “They are about a solid of a high school team as you want to face. We played them at the Central York Tournament and they took it to us. We'll try to learn from that, but we'll see a good Hempfield team on Saturday.”

The Black Knights are seeking their 11th championship and first since 2016. This will be the fourth meeting between the two programs in the finals. Hempfield beat North Allegheny in 2002 and ‘03, while the Tigers won in 1995.

This Black Knights' team features a lot of balance. Ian Flood, Ian Willig and Zach Wilson provide hitting punch. Middle hitters Gavin Hanzelman and Elliot De La Torre also add net-front presence.

“I think we were shocked the first time we played against them,” Schmidt said. “I think coach Schall has done did a good job this week preparing us for them.”

North Allegheny will look keep Hempfield guessing where its offense is coming from. Canyon Tuman (423 kills), Jason Stiefvater (219), Jeremiah Zemet (120), Alex Zubrow (118) and Jake Barber (113) all are capable of scoring big points.

Schmidt does a lot to quarterback the offense, leading the team with 939 assists.

“It makes us tough to scout; everyone on the team can hit,” Schmidt said. “We have a competitive drive, and everyone wants to win every game.”

Being willing to battle showed every step of the way for North Allegheny. The Tigers had to collect themselves after losing the fourth set to Central York in the semifinals. Schall was enthralled with how his kids rallied to beat the team that toppled them in the state finals the year before.

“A lot of resilience,” Schall said. “We had some emotional swings in Game 1. We had a big lead and let it slip away. When that happens, there's an opportunity to fold a bit emotionally. I thought there was great character resilience in the second game.”

Schmidt would like to see their mental fortitude carry them to a big win.

That way the seniors can leave the program on top.

“We look at it as a positive,” Schmidt said. “It gives us more of an edge and reason to compete. Obviously, we're competitors. (Having) the opportunity to play in this game is one thing, but we want to win it.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

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