New coach Palaschak hopes to keep Norwin boys volleyball team among WPIAL’s best

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Saturday, April 16, 2022 | 10:01 AM


Norwin first-year boys volleyball coach Mike Palaschak pays attention to rankings because, well, he kind of has to.

He participates in the voting for the weekly Western PA Volleyball Coaches Association poll, which ranks the top 10 WPIAL teams in Class 3A and 2A.

So, he couldn’t help but notice his Knights were No. 3 in Class 3A in the second poll of the season.

He wasn’t that surprised and didn’t exactly take the lofty rating to heart. But it was a proud moment.

To the coach, the proof is in the results.

“It varies from week to week with different outcomes to each match or tournament,” said Palaschak, a Norwin alum. “I think we are a top-five team right now with a lot of hard work to accomplish in order to get to the final dance. I think it’s good to see how others think of what teams are the best, however, it ultimately comes down to when the other team is across the court from you. How you play in those moments is the key to it all.”

Palaschak said powerhouse North Allegheny and Seneca Valley are the top two teams and, “Until someone beats NA in the playoffs, it will always be them down the stretch.

“We need to see where we stand with the big dogs.”

But Norwin has the makeup of a playoff contender. The Knights started 3-0 with wins over No. 5 Hempfield, Armstrong and No. 9 Latrobe.

“The team so far has been very resilient,” Palaschak said. “That is one thing I am pretty happy with. We have been down at times and bounced back. We have come out flat and still managed to pull things together. We just need to focus on being consistent and running an efficient offense.”

The Knights made the WPIAL playoffs last year as the No. 8 seed in 3A. They blanked No. 9 Upper St. Clair, 3-0, in the first round but lost 3-0 to eventual champion North Allegheny in the quarterfinals.

North Allegheny has won the last four WPIAL titles and 15 of the last 18 championships in the classification. The Tigers have 21 titles overall.

Norwin’s top returning players are seniors Tyler Hussey and Michael Fleming, a pair of outside hitters. Hussey will play in college at Thiel.

All but two starters return for the Knights.

“We were young last year, and having us all get experience at that level of play is a huge advantage when playing other teams that aren’t as experienced as us,” Hussey said. “Our main goal was to win the section since it has been a while since that has happened.”

Junior middle-backers Michael Mihalov and Ethan Painter are also key contributors, along with sophomores Jackson Genicola and Troy Horvath.

Top newcomers to the rotation are senior setter Luke Mumpower, senior right-side hitter Kevin Skweres and sophomore left-side hitter Lucas Churchfield.

Mumpower and Skweres are Penn State Behrend commits. Mumpower was a WPVCA Player of the Week earlier in the season.

“The top advantage we have is our ball control,” Palaschak said. “We have a very skilled, three-person serve-receive that can compete with anyone. This helps our offense run smoothly.”

A new coach needs time for his system to take root. Norwin’s players seem to be adjusting quickly.

“I feel the team has adapted to my strategies on and off the court,” Palaschak said. “We just need to stay consistent and not overdue anything.”

Hussey said Palaschak is “positionally focused.”

“He knows the game of volleyball and has a ton of experience, so hearing it from him is a must-listen and follow if you want to get better,” Hussey said. “He works us differently than in the past and runs practices that are focused more or less on the play and trusting our teammates.

“Knowing that all of us have played together previously, whether in the school season or in club, we all have confidence in one another no matter what the circumstances are.”

The new coach has been around the game long enough to know it can take a village to win consistently.

“I am excited to get this program off and running,” Palaschak said. “I am very fortunate to have great coaches before me to keep the program at a top level. I have the privilege of having an experienced player and coach as my assistant, Sue Mihalov, to keep the program organized and moving in the right direction. Without all of them this would be a very hard task.”

Palaschak also is the women’s volleyball coach at Westmoreland County Community College, where he has coached for four years.

He also was an assistant at WCCC, and other stints include three years as an assistant with the Fox Chapel boys and three years at Carlow.

“I have loved this sport ever since my Norwin head coach, Mike Feorene, recruited me and showed me what an amazing sport volleyball is,” Palaschak said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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