Latrobe, Derry ready for WPIAL volleyball semifinals

Sunday, May 19, 2019 | 6:21 PM

Latrobe and Derry hope to reach Thursday’s WPIAL championship matches.

In order to that, both will have to knock off defending champs in their respective classifications in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Wildcats take on North Allegheny in Class 3A, and the Trojans meet Ambridge in a rematch of last year’s Class 2A title match.

“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Latrobe coach Drew Vosefski said. “We’re looking forward to it. The guys are excited, pumped and working hard.”

The fourth-seeded Wildcats received a first-round bye. They opened the postseason with a 3-0 win over Seneca Valley, which knocked Latrobe out of last year’s playoffs.

“Sometimes, byes can be detrimental because it gives you too much time to rest. Our guys came out fired up, and they wanted to prove they were one of the four best teams in the WPIAL,” Vosefski said. “In my opinion, we did everything we wanted to do. We did some things extremely better than we had in the past also. We blocked them well, and I think we got in their head quickly and altered the way they played the game.”

Vosefski knows the Wildcats face a challenge against the top-seeded Tigers. North Allegheny has won the past two WPIAL titles and 10 in the past 12 years. The Tigers are the defending state champs, too.

“We scrimmaged NA at the beginning of the season, so we had a little taste of what they had. They are not the same team we played back then, and we aren’t the same team, either,” Vosefski said. “Getting a chance to sit and watch them (in the quarterfinals) was advantageous.”

Latrobe’s runner-up finish at the State College tournament validated the team’s belief it could compete with elite teams. The Wildcats hope that experience pays off Tuesday.

“I think the way to go about beating NA is to have the mindset that they are just another team in front of us,” Vosefski said. “Yes, they have the reputation and trophies, but, at this point, it’s more of a mental game than a physical game. I think we have the players and program to match up well with them this year. We just need to realize it’s just another bunch of guys in shorts playing volleyball in front of us. Doing so well at the State College tournament, we should be able to match up with them well and give them a run for their money. We just have to put it all out on the court and see how it goes.”

For top-seeded Derry, this matchup is one it has been looking forward to since last postseason. The Trojans were the top seed a year ago, too, and on the verge of a WPIAL title with a 2-0 lead over the Bridgers in the championship match, but Ambridge rallied for a 3-2 triumph and its eighth WPIAL crown in 12 years.

“Both teams are very good. I expect a good battle from both teams,” Derry coach Shawn Spencer said. “Hopefully, we’re able to come out on top. We’ll go in there and play as hard as we can, and the chips will fall where they may.”

Derry beat Ambridge, 3-2, in a nonsection match to open the season.

“If we can control what we do on our side of the net, I think we’ll have some good success,” Spencer said. “Teams might try to take control, but, if you can control your side, that goes out the window and you’re able to dictate the match.”

The Trojans received a bye in the first round, but got back into action with a 3-0 win over Trinity in the quarterfinals.

“At this time of the year, the kids are not much into practicing. They want to play,” Spencer said. “It was nice to get back to playing matches. I think they are ready.”

Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, both Latrobe and Derry will play Thursday at Fox Chapel in either the championship or consolation match. The WPIAL’s top three teams in each classification advance to the PIAA tournament.

“I think this is the best time of the year. It’s real fun, but it can be nerve wracking at the same time for the kids,” Spencer said. “They like this competition. I think that’s what makes sports fun. We have to embrace the challenge and go after it.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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