North Allegheny volleyball beats Bethel Park again, this time in PIAAs

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 | 10:19 PM

It was a WPIAL finals rematch the Bethel Park boys volleyball team waited 12 days for and one WPIAL and defending PIAA champion North Allegheny knew was coming. It wasn’t if — the only question was where it would be held.

After being swept in the WPIAL finals by the Tigers, Bethel Park threw everything but the kitchen sink at North Allegheny. The Tigers never flinched and played like champions to win 3-1 in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals Tuesday night at Penn Hills.

“We have a lot of respect for (Bethel Park),” North Allegheny coach Dan Schall said. “One of the challenges was resetting our preparation to how we were before the WPIAL final.”

North Allegheny (22-0) advances to Saturday’s PIAA finals and will compete for the seventh title in program history. The Tigers will face Central York at 1:30 p.m. at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena.

“They played an amazing match, and they did a really nice job,” Bethel Park coach Zach Smith said. “Everything we threw at them, they came back. We did everything we could do, pulled out all of the stops and they were just a little better than us tonight.”

The deafening roar from the North Allegheny locker room following the match said it all. This one was was special. Bethel Park (18-2) didn’t look like the team that was swept by the Tigers in the championship game. The Black Hawks made North Allegheny earn it.

The Black Hawks came out in the first set and led early on. It was’t until North Allegheny’s Ben Mendes drilled a kill into the Bethel Park floor did the Tigers begin to make a small run. Bethel Park hitting errors helped pace the Tigers attack and gave them the lead at 11-10. North Allegheny never trailed again taking the first set 25-16. It was vintage North Allegheny.

“We prepare the same way every time,” North Allegheny outside hitter Drew Hunker said.

Hunker finished match with 16 kills, and Mendes tallied 13.

The second set was all Bethel Park. The Black Hawks finally settled in and played their game and jumped out to an lead early and never looked back. The Tigers managed to claw their way back to 12-11, in large part because of Bethel Park hitting errors. Senior outside hitter Max Cooley paced the Black Hawks to a 25-21 second-set win. Cooley led Bethel Park with 23 kills followed by teammate Mason Bussard with 19.

“My guys are well conditioned, they love to play and just keep coming back,” Smith said. “It was just a couple bounces one way versus the other.”

The Tigers pounced on Bethel Park in the third set and jumped to an early 9-6 lead. Cooley brought the Black Hawks back late in the set and sent a powerful kill to trim the Tigers lead to 24-23 before Mendes rifled a kill right in the middle of the floor for a 25-23 win.

“I think Max Cooley is such a great kid and such a great player,” Schall said. “He can single-handedly take a match over, and he started to do that.”

The Tigers never trailed in the fourth set. North Allegheny used a set of small runs to take control. A couple of kills by Hunker and Alex Zubrow and a block by Sava Topich helped establish the momentum early. Zubrow’s block gave the Tigers a 10-6 lead, and the Black Hawks struggled to close the gap the rest of the way. Zubrow ended the final set with a block to give the Tigers the 25-19 win.

Zubrow notched four aces and seven blocks.

“It’s a really hard journey and a really hard climb, and we did it three years in a row,” Schall said. “We can’t take it for granted.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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