North Allegheny reloads lineup in quest for 7th straight PIAA volleyball title

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Saturday, September 9, 2023 | 11:01 AM


First-time starters on the North Allegheny girls volleyball team surely have more seasoning than most since they’ve practiced for years against a state championship lineup.

The six-time defending champions sure hope so, because they’re relying on new faces in their quest for seven.

“We’re lucky because our second side is playing against one of the best teams in the state every day (at practice),” coach Russ Hoburg said. “I think that naturally makes us better.”

The team graduated a senior class with five all-state players. Among them were the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, Mia Tuman, along with the team leaders in assists, blocks, digs and kills, but Hoburg said this isn’t a new situation for the Tigers.

You can’t win states six years in a row without turning over the roster.

“We lost a good senior class, but at the same time, this new group has been getting after it every day in the gym for the last three years, kind of waiting their turn,” Hoburg said. “That’s just how it works at NA. You’re waiting your turn more often than not. When you get to your junior and senior year, more opportunities come your way.”

The Tigers went 22-1 last season, with their only loss coming to rival Pine-Richland in the WPIAL 4A finals. But by rallying to win a sixth consecutive state title, they hung another PIAA banner and inched closer to Norwin’s record of nine straight won from 1976-84.

As North Allegheny geared up for another season, it was tough to count the returning starters, Hoburg said. Most of the regulars from a year ago are gone, but some players who started here or there are back.

“You could say we have zero, one or six,” he said, “depending on how you define that.”

The position with the most experience is outside hitter, where seniors Kyra Schmidt, Rylee Gadomski (56 kills), Jamie Frisco (90), Elysia Smith (70) and Marin Dunaway (64) all have played varsity minutes. Schmidt was injured last season but had 43 kills as a sophomore. The four others rotated in as the team’s second hitter last season.

With so many quality seniors at the position, the tricky part for the coaches is finding enough playing time.

“That is the challenge,” Hoburg said. “That’s what makes it difficult. We try to establish a culture of competition in the gym, but also friendly competition, which is easier said than done.”

The team graduated top hitters Carissa Treser (246 kills) and Ella Deeter (233 kills). Treser now plays for Gannon, and Deeter is at Seton Hill. Also gone is Tuman (171 kills, 287 assists, 70 aces), a freshman at Ohio State, and Caroline Curran (364 digs), a freshman at Ohio.

Their absence was noticeable in the first workouts without them.

“It was definitely strange, but it’s like that every year,” Hoburg said. “Obviously, this past year had a lot of girls who went on to play in college and was a special group. But the year before and the year before was the same.”

This year’s roster has a pair of senior middle hitters in Ariana Schiller and Julie Butler, who had to wait their turn to start at what’s been a position of strength for the Tigers.

The team has three senior defensive specialists in Avery Butcher, Caileigh Duffy and Jordan Frisco. Butcher ranked fifth on the team with 148 digs, and the four ahead of her all graduated.

There also are three girls competing to be the team’s setter: junior Mackenzie Jones, sophomore Keely McMahon-Regan and freshman Molly Robertson.

“Even though you’re competing for the same role, we recognize at the end of the day that NA is special,” Hoburg said. “The success that we’ve built means we have this privilege of trying to go for No. 7. Not every school has that opportunity. A lot of the girls recognize that putting the team first during high school season is really important, because we do have that opportunity.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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