Baldwin girls volleyball settles for 2nd in WPIAL
By: Ray Fisher
Friday, November 9, 2018 | 6:42 PM
North Allegheny was a team on a mission.
The top-seeded Tigers stormed past the Baldwin girls volleyball team, 3-0, to win the WPIAL Class AAAA girls volleyball championship and remain undefeated on the season.
The NA girls won 25-9, 25-15, 26-24 to claim their second WPIAL title in a row and sixth overall.
Baldwin finished as the WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up.
“I’m proud of the girls to have made it back to the championship game,” Baldwin coach Chris Kelly said. “I feel like we certainly deserved to be there. We really had to work hard to get there though. Our (playoff) matches with Shaler and Pine were not easy. Part of that was our fault. We were too inconsistent with our effort.
“That was the last thing we needed to be against NA. I never like losing, but sometimes it’s easier to swallow if your team plays well and loses. We didn’t play well at all, and that is frustrating. We started to come around in set 3, but it was too little, too late.”
Baldwin, seeded No. 2, climbed closer to a potential victory game by game against the Tigers.
The Highlanders were overwhelmed in Game 1, but rebounded to take an early lead in the second set before a 9-1 run gave NA a 17-8 advantage.
Baldwin fought back with five consecutive points behind senior libero Mackenzie Meis at the service line and junior middle blocker Allison Murray at the net area. But the Tigers won eight of the game’s final 10 points.
The Highlanders fought valiantly in Game 3. A combination of Baldwin kills and NA mistakes kept it close; there were 11 ties and eight lead changes in what turned out to be a thriller.
Baldwin held slight advantages of 2-1, 3-2, 5-4 and 8-7 before the Tigers went ahead 16-10, then 18-12. Still down by five, Baldwin went on an 8-1 tear to secure a 23-21 lead.
Junior outside hitter Anna Baloh and senior defensive specialist Kerri Herran provided some serving magic for the Highlanders. Baloh stunned the NA girls with three service aces.
“Coming into the game, we had nothing to lose,” Baloh said. “I feel as though we gave it our all against NA, and even though it wasn’t going in our favor, we did not give up without a fight.”
Baldwin maintained a 24-22 edge a few minutes later, only to see the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions tally the final four points.
“NA started to make some mistakes in set 3 and we began to play better and get some momentum,” said Kelly, who is assited by Adam Foote. “Anna Baloh was key in set 3 with her serving; she was our emotional leader.”
The Highlanders’ rotation against the Tigers consisted of junior OH/RS Riley Lenard, Herron, Meis, junior setter Mia Hampsay, Murray, junior defensive specialist Maggie Zandier, Baloh, senior right-side hitter Flannery Larson and junior middle blocker Ally Schenk.
Murray led Baldwin with seven kills.
“As a team, the match was definitely not one of our strongest,” Murray said. “I feel like the nerves got to a lot of the team. Going into that match, lots of people expected Baldwin to lose. So we wanted to go out and just play and have fun. Not being able to pass to have an offense is something we definitely struggled with, and defending against NA’s fast offense is something we also struggled with.
“But throughout the playoffs our team became stronger and more confident in each other. Coming back and beating Pine-Richland after losing the first two sets definitely showed us that we have more determination than we thought.”
North Allegheny was sparked by the likes of senior MH Anna Sprys (13 kills, 6 blocks, 2 aces), sophomore S/RS Paige Morningstar, sophomore OH Paige Miller, senior OH Avery Tuman, senior S Allena Carmody, junior MH Madison Curran; plus juniors Abby Miller (S/RS) and Hannah Montross (DS).
Earlier this year, Sprys made her college commitment to Division I Binghamton (N.Y.), while Morningstar offered a verbal commitment to Louisville. Carmody is a Robert Morris recruit.
“NA was definitely the best team we have played all season,” Baloh said. “NA served really tough and was good at putting the ball away.
“Our main strength is that we are all pretty close with each other so we can trust each other in matches. We all play for each other and want to do the best for our team, which helps us to play better.”
Baldwin defeated No. 10 Shaler, 3-2, and No. 3 Pine-Richland, 3-2, in advancing to the WPIAL finals.
“The win against Pine was our most exciting and biggest win of the season,” Kelly said, “but we really only played well for half the match. Riley Lenard was the MVP in that match.”
“I would say our best match was against Pine-Richland,” she said. “We lost the first two sets and came back to win the next three. After losing the second game, we really had to pick it up and we definitely did. Everyone started to play really well as we became determined to take this game to a fifth set.
“Riley really helped us to get the lead over Pine with her tough serves and great defense.”
During the regular season, Murray led the Highlanders in kills with 214, complemented by Schenk (139), Baloh (118) and Lenard (117).
Meis was the team leader in digs (204) and service aces (32). Murray racked up 124 digs, followed by Herron (110), Zandier (108) and Baloh (104).
Murray and Baloh recorded 21 and 20 aces, while Zandier finished with 17.
Baldwin qualified for the PIAA tournament and took a 15-2 record into its first-round match Tuesday against District 6 champion State College.
“I’d really like to congratulate everyone who made this season as great as it has been,” Baloh said, “including the team, coaches, and all the fans who supported us.”
North Allegheny zipped past No. 9 Butler and No. 4 Oakland Catholic — both by 3-0 scores — in its two previous WPIAL playoff tests. The 19-0 Tigers met District 10 champion McDowell in the PIAA opening round.
North Allegheny, Baldwin, No. 3 Pine-Richland and Oakland Catholic received first-round byes in the WPIAL tournament.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.