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Underdog Unionville ready to take its shot at a title against 3-time reigning state champ North Allegheny

EAST MARLBOROUGH >> It’s not unusual to have a Ches-Mont League squad in the championship match of the PIAA Volleyball Playoffs. Winning the crown, however, has been frustratingly elusive.

When Unionville takes on North Allegheny for the Class 54A crown on Saturday, 6 p.m., at Cumberland Valley, it will mark the fourth straight year that a league representative is going up against the powerful Tigers. In each of the previous three seasons, Bishop Shanahan came up short against North Allegheny, although a year ago, things were decided in a five-set marathon.

Under head coach Stephanie Smith, UHS is making its first-ever appearance in the title match. And two of the state’s most respected coaches believe that underdog Unionville has a real chance to get it done.

“Of course they have a chance. That’s why you play the game,” said Shanahan’s Greg Ashman.

“Unionville has a great shot,” agreed Parkland’s Mike Krause. “They have the power on the outside, they have big blockers in the middle and a really good setter.”

There are certainly no guarantees, of course. Especially when the opponent is the reigning three-time state champs that has amassed an 86-1 record since 2017. The Tigers are currently 17-0, won the WPIAL once again, and are the favorite on Saturday.

“North Allegheny seems to be there every year and seems to win it,” Ashman pointed out. “So it’s kind of a David-versus-Goliath situation.

“The team that avoids making errors is going to be the team that wins. It’s going to be important for Unionville to settle in and not be overwhelmed by the moment. They have a terrific team and (senior hitter) Sophie Brenner can take over a game.”

Brenner and company were admittedly a bit nervous in the early going of a 3-1 win over Parkland in the semis on Tuesday, and will almost assuredly need to avoid a repeat in order to stay with the Tigers.

District 3 champion Hempfield took North Allegheny to the limit Tuesday before falling in five sets, which should give Unionville some hope. Head coach Heidi Miller’s squad is led by senior setter Paige Morningstar, who has signed to play collegiately at Louisville. And outside hitters Paige Miller (the coach’s daughter) and Mia Tuman are, like Morningstar, All-District picks.

“We need to come in without being nervous and focus on adjusting and staying positive,” Brenner said.

“We just want to go out there and have fun. We are kind of the underdogs and I hope that attitude will give us a little push.”

At 14-0, Unionville has really only been seriously threatened once this season: a five-set thriller in the District 1 final against Bishop Shanahan. In the rest, UHS has won 48 of 50 sets.

“This season has been an awesome experience. I am thankful for every second of it,” Smith said.

“No matter the outcome on Saturday, we’ve made history and making our school proud,” added sophomore hitter Jillian Murphy.

“On social media, everybody’s acknowledging how far we’ve gotten. Even though we are not in school, they are supporting us. We still get a bunch of shout-outs and it’s been amazing.”

Signed to play college volleyball at Division I Loyola (Md.), Brenner is the school’s all-time kill leader, junior middle hitters Emily Harper and Geena Weeber are a formidable presence at the net, and senior setter Ashlyn Wiswall is a poised and experienced quarterback. In addition, Unionville has an impressive supporting cast including Murphy, junior Claire Nelson, and junior libero Emma Yin.

“Unionville’s libero played well against us,” Krause pointed. “We were trying to test her a little bit and she answered the call.”

Getting a chance to win a state title in the midst of a global pandemic would certainly be a unique accomplishment, especially looking back to last summer when there were serious doubts whether the season was going to take place at all.

“It’s been a roller coaster throughout this season, but I was talking to some teaching colleagues and they were saying that this run has given everybody (at Unionville) a light,” Smith recalled.

“It’s been a roller coaster throughout this season, but I was talking to some teaching colleagues and they were saying that this run has given everybody a light. It provides something to look forward to. Something to fight for and be excited about in a time where we really don’t have a lot of other things going on.

 “It provides something to look forward to. Something to fight for and be excited about in a time where we really don’t have a lot of other things going on.”

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAST MARLBOROUGH – It’s not unusual to have a Ches-Mont squad in the championship match of the PIAA Volleyball Playoffs. Winning the crown, however, has been frustratingly elusive.

When Unionville takes on North Allegheny for the Class 54A crown on Saturday, 6 p.m., at Cumberland Valley, it will mark the fourth straight year that a league representative is going up against the powerful Tigers. In each of the previous three seasons, Bishop Shanahan came up short against North Allegheny, although a year ago, things were decided in a five-set marathon.

Under head coach Stephanie Smith, UHS is making its first-ever appearance in the title match. And two of the state’s most respected coaches believe that underdog Unionville has a real chance to get it done.

“Of course they have a chance. That’s why you play the game,” said Shanahan’s Greg Ashman.

“Unionville has a great shot,” agreed Parkland’s Mike Krause. “They have the power on the outside, they have big blockers in the middle and a really good setter.”

There are certainly no guarantees, of course. Especially when the opponent is the reigning three-time state champs that has amassed an 86-1 record since 2017. The Tigers are currently 17-0, won the WPIAL once again, and are the favorite on Saturday.

“North Allegheny seems to be there every year and seems to win it,” Ashman pointed out. “So it’s kind of a David-versus-Goliath situation.

“The team that avoids making errors is going to be the team that wins. It’s going to be important for Unionville to settle in and not be overwhelmed by the moment. They have a terrific team and (senior hitter) Sophie Brenner can take over a game.”

Brenner and company were admittedly a bit nervous in the early going of a 3-1 win over Parkland in the semis on Tuesday, and will almost assuredly need to avoid a repeat in order to stay with the Tigers.

District 3 champion Hempfield took North Allegheny to the limit Tuesday before falling in five sets, which should give Unionville some hope. Head coach Heidi Miller’s squad is led by senior setter Paige Morningstar, who has signed to play collegiately at Louisville. And outside hitters Paige Miller (the coach’s daughter) and Mia Tuman are, like Morningstar, All-District picks.

“We need to come in without being nervous and focus on adjusting and staying positive,” Brenner said.

“We just want to go out there and have fun. We are kind of the underdogs and I hope that attitude will give us a little push.”

At 14-0, Unionville has really only been seriously threatened once this season: a five-set thriller in the District 1 final against Bishop Shanahan. In the rest, UHS has won 48 of 50 sets.

“This season has been an awesome experience. I am thankful for every second of it,” Smith said.

“No matter the outcome on Saturday, we’ve made history and making our school proud,” added sophomore hitter Jillian Murphy.

“On social media, everybody’s acknowledging how far we’ve gotten. Even though we are not in school, they are supporting us. We still get a bunch of shout-outs and it’s been amazing.”

Signed to play college volleyball at Division I Loyola (Md.), Brenner is the school’s all-time kill leader, junior middle hitters Emily Harper and Geena Weeber are a formidable presence at the net, and senior setter Ashlyn Wiswall is a poised and experienced quarterback. In addition, Unionville has an impressive supporting cast including Murphy, junior Claire Nelson, and junior libero Emma Yin.

“Unionville’s libero played well against us,” Krause pointed. “We were trying to test her a little bit and she answered the call.”

Getting a chance to win a state title in the midst of a global pandemic would certainly be a unique accomplishment, especially looking back to last summer when there were serious doubts whether the season was going to take place at all.

“It’s been a roller coaster throughout this season, but I was talking to some teaching colleagues and they were saying that this run has given everybody (at Unionville) a light,” Smith recalled.

“It’s been a roller coaster throughout this season, but I was talking to some teaching colleagues and they were saying that this run has given everybody a light. It provides something to look forward to. Something to fight for and be excited about in a time where we really don’t have a lot of other things going on.

 “It provides something to look forward to. Something to fight for and be excited about in a time where we really don’t have a lot of other things going on.”

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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