North Allegheny girls volleyball hopes PIAA finals experience pays off against Unionville

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Friday, November 20, 2020 | 12:31 PM


North Allegheny is going after its fourth consecutive PIAA Class 4A girls volleyball championship and seventh overall in program history.

District 1 champion Unionville is in the state finals for the first time.

Tigers coach Heidi Miller said while her team has the advantage in experience for Saturday’s 6 p.m. matchup at Cumberland Valley High School, she said Unionville has seasoned players who will bring the fight to her team.

“This is a change from previous seasons, but we’ve been trying to do our homework over the past couple of days to develop a scouting report,” said Miller, who guided her team to state title wins over District 1 power Bishop Shanahan each of the past three seasons.

“They have a lot of really talented players who play for a prominent club in the offseason. They have some long-bodied, physical kids. They are a team who matches up similar to us in size, if not bigger than us. To that point, I always tell the girls that bigger isn’t always better. We played a Bishop Shanahan team the past three years who was bigger than us on paper and had an impressive hitting warm-up. But we were able to either out-play, out-IQ or out-ball handle them when it counted. That’s what we are hoping to do again.”

North Allegheny, now 17-0, was able to handle the pressure last year as it outlasted Bishop Shanahan in five sets. Included in that was a 16-14 fifth set victory. Senior Paige Miller, a William & Mary commit, delivered a kill on match point to wrap up the title for her team.

“For the girls returning to the floor who have those experiences under their belts, it will help from a confidence standpoint,” Coach Miller said.

“They know what it’s like to win it all, and we can do it again. We got some younger kids in during the state finals last year, and that should help them. Even if they weren’t main contributors, they at least got the chance to get out there and experience that stage. It will be interesting to see on both sides of the net who handles the pressure. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that like we’ve done the past three years.”

North Allegheny punched its ticket to Saturday’s finals with a 3-2 semifinal win over Hempfield (District 3) Tuesday at Altoona Field House.

Sophomore outside hitter Mia Tuman tallied 16 kills and 12 digs as the Tigers won the first and third sets and scored a 15-9 victory in the fifth and deciding set. Junior Jadyn Perkins added 14 kills and six blocks, sophomore Rachel Pilotta contributed 14 kills, and sophomore Caroline Curran had a team-best 20 digs.

It was the second time this season NA went five sets for a victory. It defeated Shaler, 3-2, in a section match Oct. 17.

“I think it is a good time to have a match like that,” coach Miller said of Tuesday’s semifinal.

“If anything, it’s going to prepare us mentally and physically that we’ve got to get our work done these couple days of practice to be ready for the finals.”

Unionville (14-0) earned its spot in the finals with Tuesday’s 3-1 win over undefeated District 11 power Parkland. Senior Loyola (Md.) commit Sophie Brenner, an outside hitter, led the way with 21 kills, and senior setter Ashlyn Wiswall added 36 assists.

Sophomore outside hitter Maddy Lowe and junior middle hitter Emily Harper contributed nine and seven kills, respectively.

Unionville (14-0) upended Bishop Shanahan in the District 1 semifinals. It then swept past Council Rock North in the finals for its first district championship since 1995.

North Allegheny delayed the start of its season because of covid-19 issues, but the Tigers didn’t let a compact schedule slow them down.

They went 12-0 in Section 1-4A and turned away the challenges of playoff-qualifying section foes Shaler, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley.

NA then topped Seneca Valley, Moon and Shaler en route to its seventh WPIAL championship.

“The schedule was tough, and I was proud of the girls for getting through the regular season without dropping a match,” coach Miller said.

“I am so thankful we got to play through to the WPIAL championship and that we were able to get to Saturday.”

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

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