Norwin’s volleyball team knows it probably won’t overpower many opponents.
However, the Knights know they’ll stay in matches if they focus on fundamentals.
“When you have a team with as limited varsity experience as we have, you have to try to establish an identity for yourself. Our goal every game has been to serve tough and play scrappy,” Norwin coach Nick Fallone said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have too many explosive hitters. So we have to play smarter and harder and celebrate every single point.”
Valuing each point has benefited Norwin and prevented opponents from gaining too much separation in sets.
“We talk about the importance of every point all the time,” Fallone said. “There are make-or-break moments in every game that could really define the game. It’s OK to give a point or two, but when a team goes on a run of five, six or seven points, then you have to fight back.
“We’ve had to fight our way back into games, but one thing I do love about the team is their fight. I have no doubt they will compete the whole time. It’s been fun to see, but I would like to get a little lead first instead of having to dig our way back. It is what it is, though, and whoever gets those 25 points first, that’s the goal.”
The Knights quickly learned to appreciate each point. They dropped their second WPIAL Section 3-3A match to Hempfield, 3-2, by scores of 27-25, 27-29, 24-26, 25-23, 15-11. Then the team won five in a row, including a 3-1 upset win over Penn-Trafford, which entered the match ranked second in the WPIAL coaches’ poll.
“The loss to Hempfield still stings a little bit. But we’re still working hard,” Fallone said. “We talk all the time about how competitive the section is. Really, there are five teams fighting for four playoff spots. On any given night, if a team has a good night, it could take one from another team. We try to compete every day and bring that to the court come game time.
“What’s been nice about it is, every week we get a little better. With the limited experience we have, the only option is to get better. When it comes down to it, you have to serve and pass well. You don’t have to be biggest team. If you serve and pass well, and the ball doesn’t hit the floor, you’ll win.”
Fallone points to senior libero Tanner Cook and junior outside hitter Jake Williams as two of the squad’s top servers.
“We put a lot of emphasis on serving. Not just serving but serving under stressful conditions in practice,” Fallone said. “Ultimately, you have to serve to be a highly functional team. They all serve pretty well.”
Sophomore Joey Ferragonio and Williams have been the team’s top offensive weapons on the outside, along with right-side hitter Noah Gross.
“Jake is having an all-WPIAL kind of year so far. He’s hitting 42 percent on the season. Joey Ferragonio has really started to take form. Most of our production has come from them,” Fallone said.
In the middle, senior Josh Ratesic, an Allegheny basketball recruit, is playing volleyball for the first time. Junior Jared Valentich, who missed last season, transitioned inside to help bolster the position along with Nate Pogue.
“Josh has played volleyball for about a month, but he has a great attitude and is a great athlete. He’s highly competitive. I wish he could have been around the past three years, but we’ll take him this year. He has been a big guy for us in the middle,” Fallone said. “Not only do we have young players but ones with limited varsity experience. … They are good athletes, and they’re committed to understanding the technical aspects, too.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.