North Allegheny boys volleyball repeats, wins PIAA championship

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Saturday, June 8, 2019 | 8:36 PM


STATE COLLEGE — With a title to defend, North Allegheny set the tone early at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena during Saturday’s PIAA Class AAA boys volleyball championships.

This was certainly true on the defensive side of the court as the Tigers put on a blocking and digging clinic.

Because of it, five previous championship tries against Central York are history: North Allegheny won its second straight state title with a 25- 21, 25-20, 25-20 sweep of the Panthers.

Even after his team finished the season 23-0, Tigers coach Dan Schall was surprised to win in three sets.

“Any state final, you are getting two heavyweights in the final. To win 3-0 is pretty incredible,” he added.

The North Allegheny lineup is different from the one that beat Hempfield (District 3) last year, with many of those players graduated.

Senior Drew Hunker capped his first season as a starter by leading the Tigers offense with 13 kills Saturday, mostly fed by 6-foot-5 setter Sava Topich.

Alex Zubrow had six kills and seven blocks. Jeremiah Zemet notched seven kills with six blocks, and Ben Mendes had five blocks and several kills, including the championship point.

“At North Allegheny, sometimes you have to wait a long time to maybe get a shot. For 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids, that can be frustrating,” Schall said. “The really great teams have to exhibit some selflessness and patience.

“Drew Hunker is a heck of a player, and he didn’t even get to step on the court last year. They are so mature, so selfless that it allows things like this to happen.”

Senior Nick Bridges said that being at State College for the third consecutive season paid dividends.

“No doubt about it,” he said. “The leadership we experienced last year from the seniors was great. They talked about us before the season started, and I think there was an interfaith that we knew we could do it. Being here last year gave us a taste for it, and we wanted it back when people were telling us we couldn’t do it.”

While a first-set victory set the tone, the middle game was epic defensively for North Allegheny, which had eight blocks fall for points.

Three of those came early, although Central opened an 11-9 lead. However, North Allegheny responded with a 6-1 run, keyed by a kill and block from Mendes and Trevor Treser’s ace.

With his team ahead 18-17, Zubrow blocked a Panthers attack, then followed with a kill for a three-point lead. The Panthers scored next, but Zemet answered with a block, a kill and another block for a 23-18 edge.

A short while later, Mendes put home a Treser pass, and Grant Jones ended the set with a block.

Up two sets, the Tigers took nothing for granted, much to Schall’s liking. They opened a 14-6 lead behind a run of six straight points, led by a kill and block form Zemet, two kills from Hunker and Topich’s ace.

North Allegheny kept up the pace, and, although the Panthers cut the deficit to 24-20, Mendes ended the match for repeat title.

“A mantra of this team is we are always 0-0,” Schall said. “I heard Sava saying that in the huddle before Game 3. When you repeat some of those themes you know you are getting through, and it was 0-0 all the time today.”

Zubrow, who started last year, said this title is more special.

“It means a lot more a second time around because I am a senior with these boys,” he said. “Winning last year with those guys was amazing and I love them a lot, but these guys are something (special). They are my brothers for sure.”

Added fellow senior Zemet: “I have been blessed beyond belief to play with these guys. It’s an experience like nothing else. You can tell we are there having fun. We are playing the game we love with the people we love, and it means the most to us.”

Schall said combined with the girls team, North Allegheny has now 93 straight volleyball matches.

“It’s impressive,” he said. “The same goes for Central York, the same goes for Northeastern, the same goes for Hempfield. You are always the hunted. Everybody always gives you their best run.

“To be able to do this knowing you are getting their best run adds a layer of unbelievable to that statistic.”

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