Schedule toughens for 5-time defending PIAA champion North Allegheny girls volleyball team

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Saturday, September 3, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Section 1 is smaller this season, so the North Allegheny girls volleyball team had to fill some open dates on its schedule.

The section shrunk from seven teams to five, leaving the Tigers with only eight section matches. As a defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 4A champion with a majority of starters back, NA coach Russ Hoburg wanted as many good teams as possible among the nonsection schedule.

“Maybe there are some coaches who load up on cushy opponents,” he said. “I guess that’s what happens in D1 basketball, right? I don’t really care really what our record is. I’d rather go out and play the best teams. And then come playoff time, hopefully we’re battle tested.”

They’ll get their wish.

The Tigers’ nonsection schedule includes five of the better teams in WPIAL 4A, along with the reigning 3A and 2A champions (Freeport and North Catholic), plus a couple of perennial PIAA playoff qualifiers from across the state (State College and District 3’s Hempfield).

They’ll also attend the Cumberland Valley Invitational, a late-September event played in the same high school gym as the state finals.

“(Athletic director Bob Bozzuto) knows our attitude is, ‘Let’s try and get as many of the top teams as we can,’” Hoburg said. “He pulls off the magic.”

Credit can also go to their opponents, who are willing to schedule a dominant NA program that has won five consecutive state titles and four of the past five WPIAL titles in the largest classification.

The Tigers are coming off a 20-1 season.

They graduated two starters from last season’s team but bring back all-state players Mia Tuman and Caroline Curran for their senior years. Tuman, an Ohio State recruit, led the team in assists (356) and kills (223), earning her Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year honors.

Curran, a libero committed to Ohio, had a team-high 412 digs.

“Expectations are always high,” said Hoburg, who enters his second season as coach. “The pressure we put on ourselves in the gym is to maximize the group that we have. We’re fortunate to have a pretty strong group.”

Two other seniors, hitters Ella Deeter (182 kills) and Carissa Treser (184 kills), were recognized by all-section voters. Treser is a Gannon recruit. Deeter, a future setter at Seton Hill, also ranked second on the team in assists (251).

As a sophomore, Deeter started in the state finals as an opposite hitter. As a junior, she played outside hitter. Hoburg said her versatility is key.

“Tuman is kind of a household name, but Deeter is such a critical piece,” Hoburg said. “If she’s not able to take on another big role for us, it doesn’t make the whole thing work.”

Senior middle Maddie Fickess (72 kills, 47 blocks) and hitter Kyra Schmidt (43 kills) also return, along with defensive specialists senior Rebecca Pilotta (202 digs) and junior Avery Butcher (145 digs).

The team graduated two middles from last season, a pair that combined for 391 kills and 131 blocks. Stepping into that role is senior Ella Zimmer, who had 53 kills and 24 blocks in limited minutes last season.

“She deserved way more time than she got last year,” Hoburg said. “It wasn’t anything about her game. She had some darn good players in front of her.”

North Allegheny now shares a five-team section with Butler, North Hills, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley. Shaler, the only team to defeat North Allegheny last season, has left the section, along with Fox Chapel.

The WPIAL moved both to Section 3.

This will be the first time since 2015 that Shaler and North Allegheny aren’t in the same section, but the rivalry will continue. North Allegheny visits Shaler for a nonsection match Sept. 6.

“We battled so much with Shaler last year,” Hoburg said. “It’s kind of a bummer to see them go.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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