Inches and bounces determine a volleyball match. Neither favored Bethel Park. As a result, the Hawks lost another contest to North Allegheny. This time, however, the 4-1 decision came at the worst moment–in the PIAA semifinals.

“The margins in volleyball are razor thing and you can see the difference in the score,” said BP coach Zach Smith. “The difference was just a couple of bounces one way versus the other.

“We did everything that we could do. Pulled out all the stops,” Smith added. “They were just a little better than us.

For 45 consecutive matches, the Tigers (22-0) have been better than anybody. They have been to 29 straight state semifinals. In advancing to their 17th state final, NA dispatched the Hawks, 25-16, 21-25, 25-23, 25-19.

The contest, played at Penn Hills, was closer than the WPIAL final played May 23 at Fox Chapel. NA easily won its 20th district title, sweeping the Hawks, 25-17, 25-18, 25-18.

Smith said “nothing really changed” from that WPIAL final to the PIAA semifinals.

“We wanted it as much as we possibly could. We didn’t have the stigma of the championship game this time,” he said. “We gave it everything we had. My guys regrouped from the last time they played them. I’m proud of the way they came out.”

BP charged ahead, 8-5, before dropping the first set by nine points. The Black Hawks, however, evened the match, 1-1, with their four-point win in the second set.

“It was all about execution,” Smith said. “Set one, we had a lot of miscues. Set two, we were able to take some of them and put them away.”

The Tigers, however, put the Black Hawks away winning the next two sets, but the margins of victory were narrow. Though the Tigers won the third set by two points, the final set was close, 21-18, before the final margin of victory swelled to six.

My guys love to play and they keep coming back,” Smith said of the Black Hawks’ tenacity.

Smith also felt the Bethel Park showed better than its WPIAL championship performance. In fact, the Black Hawks’ play was what produced their 18-2 record, with both losses coming to the Tigers this spring.

“This was more indicative of how we’ve played all season,” Smith said of the semifinal match. “We did not have a good taste in our mouth after that championship game. We felt like we could have done a lot more.”

BP did more with its opportunity. After slipping by Cumberland Valley, 29-27, 26-24, 25-16, in the PIAA opener, the Hawks dispatched State College, 25-20, 25-22, 25-22, in the quarterfinals. The Little Lions were the District 6 champion. In the victory, Max Cooley racked up 20 kills while Mason Bussard provided nine blocks to go with 11 kills.

“We grew a lot in those two other state championship games,” Smith said. “So coming back we were a little bit more ready.”

Cooley and Bussard certainly were ready. They were on their game against the Tigers, registering 23 and 19 kills, respectively. Tyler Simpson and Austin Cortopassi each finished with six blocks. Bussard added five blocks.

Drew Hunker had 13 kills to go with Alex Zubrow and Ben Mendes who each had 10, while Jeremiah Zemet led the Tigers with 9. NA’s Sava Topich had 47 assists and Alex Zubrow dominated the service line with several key aces.

The match ended the scholastic careers of Cooley, Bussard and Joshua Sprandle, a 6-8 right-side hitter.

“Those three guys were amazing. Three of the best kids that I have ever coached,” Smith said.

“They set the tone in every sense. They work hard in practice. They have gotten better every single year. They have been the stalwarts of what has made this team good the last couple of years. They have had an incredible run. I just wish it could have ended differently for them.”

With Anthony Boff, Cortopassi, Kevin Kerr, Vincent DeBald and Simpson, a 6-10 middle hitter, returning to the starting line-up, BP’s future is bright.

The Black Hawks will also welcome back to the roster juniors, Joshua Capristo, Sebastian DiPrampero, Jacob Pauley, Alex Brownfield, Isam Durovic, Liam Fink; sophomores, Jackson Banes, Brock Doman, Matthew McGrath; and freshmen Frederick Schein, Matthew Scabilloni, Dolan Waldo, Max Blanc.

“We’ve got some kids who really want to play and who really want to get better as a coach that is all you can ask for. So we are going to go back to work and see what we can do.”

While the best the BP program has been able to do is reach the final four in states, expectations are to eventually grab that brass ring, a state championship.

“We still have a couple steps to go,” Smith said, “and we are going to do everything in the off season to get better.

“We are happy with where we have gone but we are never going to be satisfied until we are ending the season with a win.”

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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