Ambridge tops Seton LaSalle to win 10th WPIAL Class AA volleyball title
By: William Whalen
Thursday, May 23, 2019 | 10:51 PM
It’s tough to buck a trend when that trend is a 6-foot-6 outside hitter and sends high-speed laser-like kills across the net.
Ambridge junior Liam Buck set the tone early for the Bridgers with aggressive play at the net that was too much to handle as No. 4 seed Ambridge downed No. 2 Seton LaSalle, 3-1, to win back-to-back WPIAL Class AA boys volleyball championships Thursday evening at Fox Chapel.
“I came out and just wanted to be aggressive and help my team win as best as I could,” said Buck, who was also awarded WPIAL Class AA co-MVP honors.
Ambridge (13-1) now has 10 WPIAL boys volleyball titles. The Bridgers will move into the PIAA bracket to face District 10 runner-up Saegertown (12-2). Seton LaSalle (10-1) will play District 10 champ Meadville (15-0). Both teams open up PIAA play Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
“It’s great, we were talking about (repeating) really after Tuesday, and we talked about defending our title and the kids really wanted it and did a great job,” Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. “Other than that set that we lost, I don’t think that we pushed hard. Other than that, I think we pushed really hard and going after them. That’s the only way you win.”
Buck awed the crowd with his powerful kill shots from the very beginning of the match. While the Rebels started the first set on a mini run with a 4-1 lead, Buck brought the Bridgers back one kill at a time. He punctuated a first-set win with a powerful shot down the left line for the 25-15 win.
“We played Liam (Buck) all winter long in the Junior Olympics season so we knew what to expect from him, but we didn’t have an answer for him tonight,” Seton La Salle coach John Lawrence said. “Our serving wasn’t tough enough to neutralize the passing to force their setter from the net, and he was able to stand in the right position and put the ball where he wanted to.”
Buck finished the night with 25 kills. The Rebels did manage to adjust to Buck and Co. in the second set. After going down 4-0, Seton LaSalle battled back to tie the set at 7-7 when WPIAL first-teamer Alex Shaughnessy drilled home a kill and sparked a 3-0 run to give the Rebels a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. Seton LaSalle tied the match and rallied with a spirited 25-21 win.
“We try to play a men’s collegiate-style game which is to hit,” Lawrence said. “We controlled the ball well enough, and when we did we made kills. When we dropped into a tip game, they’re very good at playing that, and that’s not going to beat an Ambridge.”
The Bridgers came back out in the third set and fed Buck right away. The idea was to go back to being aggressive and it worked. The score was tight early on but a few more kills from Buck coupled with Seton LaSalle service errors let Ambridge run away with a 25-19 third-set win.
“Buck can take over a match,” Freed said. “He was really doing that, and it opens up some other things for some other guys, and that’s why he is co-MVP. He can do it all.”
The Rebels took an early lead in the fourth set after an Ambridge hitting error. For Seton LaSalle, the errors started add up in the final set, and it cost the Rebels.
“When we were able to jump serve, that’s when we were able to score,” Lawrence said. “In the second set, we were able to establish that, but I think overall the whole atmosphere got to all of us. It’s our first time here in the 14-year history of team.
“I have an old college professor, who is a friend, who said, ‘No matter what you do in life, you have to pay tuition.’ Well, we just paid up.”
The Rebels closed in on the Ambridge lead at 20-17 in the final set, but kills by Aaron Hilzendeger and WPIAL first- teamer Dorien Priddy clinched the final set and match with 25-17 win.
“It was an amazing experience, especially to win two years in a row,”Buck said.
In the third-place match, Derry defeated OLSH, 3-1, to move into the state bracket. The Trojans will face either the District 6 or 9 champion Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
William Whalen is a freelance writer.