PIAA Class 3A final another step on Shaler boys volleyball’s long road to the top

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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | 8:24 PM


Light clapping turned to loud chants as the match wore on. Shaler’s top-ranked boys volleyball team was mowing down yet another opponent, making the 100-mile drive east to Altoona High School well worth the time for a dedicated posse of mainly white shirt-clad Titans fans.

This was not North Allegheny with its nine state titles, the last in 2022. This was a fresh face, the new kid on the block.

After dispatching Warwick, 3-0 (25-16, 25-15, 25-23), in the semifinals Tuesday, WPIAL champion Shaler (19-1) remained atop the PIAA Class 3A rankings heading into a state championship rematch with District 11 champion and No. 2-ranked Parkland (20-3) on Saturday at Penn State’s Rec Hall.

“I can tell you it’s tough playing from the top,” Shaler coach Paul Stadelman said. “We have always had respect for the North Alleghenys around us. We saw how they play, and we know they really had to work to play from the top every year. We’ve gotten to experience that a lot lately.”

Shaler fans were united Tuesday in igniting their team with oohs, ahhs and cheers at every point. Now they’ll head even farther east to University Park for the second match of a championship doubleheader, hoping for some redemption following last season’s 3-0 loss to Parkland in the Class 3A final.

In the 11 a.m. opener, District 10 champion Meadville (20-0) risks its unbeaten season against District 3 runner-up Manheim Central (18-1) in the Class 2A championship match.

“It’s been great to see the parents in this program come together with the coaches,” said Stadelman, the Titans’ 12th-year head coach. “It’s a privilege to be a part of this program and to see a community surrounding it and supporting it.”

It figures to be a clash of not just one titan when Shaler and Parkland square off for the Class 3A championship. Parkland, which ousted Central York, 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 27-25), in the other Tuesday semifinal, returns 13 seniors, while Shaler sports 12.

But for Parkland, it’s junior Josh Nation who’s had the hot hand lately, leading the Trojans in a number of statistical categories in the playoffs.

“It’s nearly impossible to have any more experience at this level,” Parkland coach Scott Trumbauer told LehighValleyLive. “They continue to keep achieving and earning their wings.”

It’s been a long road to respectability for Shaler. Stadelman’s first five teams couldn’t even total 10 victories — “Maybe six or seven,” he said. — but perserverence has paid off in a big way.

“We started to try and get younger kids involved. We developed the middle school kids,” Stadelman said. “It was rough for a while, but we had some great high school kids at the time and eventually we put together enough pieces to create a better culture.”

In 2015-16, things started to turn for the better.

“It was like we flipped a switch,” Stadelman said.

The Titans finally reached the WPIAL playoffs for the first time under Stadelman in 2017-18. By the time the 2020-21 team came around, an experienced group of seniors was hoping to make some serious noise.

But the pandemic canceled the schedule.

“I felt bad for those guys. The seniors didn’t get a chance to even play that year,” Stadelman said. “These guys now were in the eighth grade at the time.”

Shaler senior Dante Palombo remembers it all too well.

“We watched that class and they were a big reason for us playing,” he said. “We’d never really had a great volleyball team until that team. Since then, we’ve watched North Allegheny. We’ve watched Seneca Valley. Mainly North Allegheny. There were D-I players. They all meshed together so well. There was never a fuss on the court. It was 100% chemistry.

“We learned from our opponents.”

This week, Shaler is sponsoring its annual summer co-ed volleyball camp, and Stadelman said it has drawn more than 200 participants. He reminisced about its evolution and quickly brought up his current group.

“I remember these guys at that camp when they were in fifth grade, trying volleyball for the first time. I was coaching them then, too,” Stadelman said. “Seeing them grow up and become the players they are now has been amazing.

“When you tell them do something, they do it. When you tell them to play more, they play more. When you tell them they need to lift weights for conditioning, they do it. My coaches are excellent at every level in getting our kids excited and ready for volleyball.”

Come Saturday, the Titans were hoping it all pays off.

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