Penn-Trafford will open the WPIAL Class AAA girls volleyball tournament with a familiar opponent 6 p.m. next Tuesday at Greensburg Salem – Baldwin.
The teams are meeting in the WPIAL playoffs for the third consecutive season, just a little earlier this time. Baldwin beat Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals last season and the semifinals the season before.
Penn-Trafford coach Jim Schall was not complaining about running into the Highlanders again, after seeing the WPIAL pairings last Tuesday.
“I like the spot that we’re in,” Schall said. “We’ve seen Baldwin before, and we played them in tournaments. Once, we lost to them in two games, and last time, we won one game and lost one. I think we’ve improved a good bit since then.”
The playoffs will open with preliminary-round matches today, with the first round starting Tuesday.
Five local teams play tonight. In Class AAA, Penn Hills will play at Hopewell at 7 p.m., with the winner moving on to play fourth-seeded North Allegheny in the next round.
Three other local teams will be in a double-header at Gateway. Kiski Area plays Shaler at 6 p.m., followed by Gateway playing Elizabeth Forward.
Riverview, which missed the playoffs last year, made the Class AA bracket and will play New Brighton at 8 p.m. tonight at Ambridge. The winner of that match faces second-seeded Laurel. Freeport will also play a preliminary-round Class AA game tonight.
No teams from the East received a top seed. Plum (10-2) opened the season as a favorite in Section 4-AAA, returning most of the team that went undefeated in that section, but lost twice to Fox Chapel (12-0) and will open on the road at seventh-seeded Montour at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Apollo-Ridge also opened with high expectations, but could not beat out Knoch for the Section 6-AA title.
“I’m a little disappointed (we didn’t win our section),” Apollo-Ridge coach Carrie Mangieri said. “I think our team is, too, with themselves. We expected to take the section this year, with Knoch losing a lot of their top players.
“I think watching tape of how they played Knoch, they know they are capable. They believe in themselves now. That’s the most important thing.”
The Vikings will play fourth-seeded South Park at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Thomas Jefferson and could play Knoch in the second round. The Knights play Deer Lakes at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Laurel.
“I think maybe we can take (South Park),” Mangieri said. “(Playing Knoch again) would be great.”
There are no East teams in the Class A playoffs.
Like Apollo-Ridge, Penn-Trafford could get a rematch with the team it finished behind in section play in the second round. The Warriors (10-4, 9-3) lost both matches in the regular season to Greensburg Salem and would face the Golden Lions in the quarterfinals if they make it that far.
“The first match, they won 3-1,” Schall said. “The second match, we won the first two games, then lost the next three. We won’t look past Baldwin.”
Penn-Trafford returned only two starters from last year’s team – senior outside hitter Sarah Sekowski and senior middle hitter Ashley Bethel – so it took some time to get new starters adjusted to their roles.
“We played well the last half of the season, especially the last week,” Schall said. “I think we are heading in the right direction.”
The top new starters are junior setter Jenna Bielewicz, senior defensive specialist Lindsay Wojcik and senior middle hitter Heidi Hamilton.
“These kids were decent last year, and now they are getting their opportunities,” Schall said.
Penn-Trafford is the most likely to move on, but Mt. Lebanon and Pine-Richland are strong favorites in Class AAA.