Kiski Area, Norwin volleyball teams ready to play outdoors again

Sunday, August 28, 2022 | 5:12 PM

The Kiski Area and Norwin girls volleyball teams kick off their seasons Monday evening, and for the second year in a row, the rivals will take their nonsection matchup outside.

The Cavaliers and Knights expect a big crowd and good weather for the Pack the Park Volleyball Classic, an event that celebrates area volleyball and honors the memory of the late Ellen Toy, a longtime area volleyball coach and mentor who passed away in 2016 after battling cancer.

The night of volleyball on the Ellen Toy Grass Court in Kennedy Park in Vandergrift begins at 5 p.m. with the junior varsity match followed by the varsity teams at 6:30.

“The girls are excited for this, and they appreciate the opportunity they have,” said Kiski Area coach Jodi McCartney, who enters her fourth year at the helm of the Cavaliers.

“We talked about it in practice today that it’s game No. 1 on the schedule and how much it matters. It’s nice to play a team with a similar mindset that we want to have a good time and have fun but also come in wanting to play good volleyball. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put on a great match for all who come to watch it.

McCartney remembers how special last year’s outdoor match was.

“It was a different atmosphere,” she said. “It was a festive atmosphere with music and other things. It was a celebration of volleyball, and it is something we’re excited to have again. Matches like this are something these girls will remember for a long time.

“It also was pretty emotional, too, as it was the first time we played there since it was dedicated to Ellen (in July 2021).”

A graduate of Kiski Area and Pitt, Ellen Toy taught in the Leechburg School District for more than two decades and also is remembered for her extensive coaching tenure, which included time at Kiski Area and Plum.

Tim Toy, Ellen’s widower and the head of the We Serve First Foundation, a sponsor of Monday’s event, said the match holds extra meaning with having Norwin as Kiski Area’s opponent.

Mary Ellen Ferragonio, who enters her 16th year as coach of the Knights, is a former coaching colleague and a longtime friend of the Toys.

“There was a time when there were two big rivalries for Kiski in volleyball, and it was Plum and Norwin. Norwin has been a consistently good program over the years, and Mary Ellen is reviving that and keeping the excitement up there. Mary Ellen and Ellen coached together and became really good friends. I relied on the Ferragonio family for a lot of support when we were going through everything. Having Norwin here for Pack the Park is such a natural fit.”

Norwin won last year’s game 3-1. The Knights won the first two games before the Cavaliers rallied for a win in Game 3. Norwin held off a Kiski Area attempt to tie the match, winning Game 4 by a 25-22 score.

Both teams welcome back several starters as they hope to build on WPIAL playoff trips — Norwin in Class 4A and Kiski Area in Class 3A.

The Cavaliers players got out on the grass court Friday, and a majority of them, McCartney said, used the park over the summer to get some extra touches when the gym was closed.

“We wanted to have the whole team get the feel for what it is like because it is a switch to what they are used to with the hard court in the gym,” McCartney said. “A lot are back who played in this game last year, so they are aware of the differences.

“Fingers crossed, but the forecast looks great. It should be a wonderful evening of volleyball. Both teams are really excited to get the season started and have this be the way it begins.”

Toy said he feels this event, like it did last year, should bring a lot of energy to the park .

“Vandergrift is coming to life, and the downtown area is becoming more vital every day,” Toy said. “Events like Pack the Park are fun and exciting and celebrate what Vandergrift is all about.

“I am also excited to see the athleticism of these young women who will compete on the court. It should be a really good match.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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