Pool play for the PIAA volleyball championships will begin Friday up at Penn State University. Three YAIAA teams will head to State College harboring hopes of bringing a championship back south.

Here's a look at how the pools will breakdown.

Class AAA

Central York, the No. 2 ranked team in the state by the PVCA, certainly won't have a waltz to the semifinals. The Panthers bracket includes District 1 runner-up Pennsbury -- which was ranked No. 1 in the state for a good chunk of the year -- and the hometown favorites, State College. District 7 runner-up Fox Chapel rounds out the pool.

Pennsbury is obviously a formidable side, but there are a few things in Central's favor here. First, the Panthers beat Pennsbury in tournament play earlier this season. Second, Pennsbury might not be clicking on all cylinders heading into this shindig -- it lost the District 1 final to Pennridge. As for the other teams in the bracket, State College and Fox Chapel are both strong teams that certainly won't be pushovers. That said, I like Central to emerge from this pool. The Panthers are confident, and more importantly seem to be playing well. Junior setter David Moler told me the other day that he would be "devasted" if Central didn't at least make the state finals.

Here's the catch: Winning the pool will be important. Settle for the second, and there's a good chance Central would end up playing District 7 powerhouse North Allegheny, which is ranked No. 1 in the state heading into the final weekend. I've seen North Allegheny play this year (in Central's tournament, ironically) and was very impressed. They'll be a tough out.

Class AA

The two YAIAA teams still alive here -- Northeastern and Eastern York -- will be in opposite brackets.

Northeastern has the good fortune (insert sarcasm) of being drawn in the same pool with District 10 champ Meadville, which also happens to be the top-ranked team in the state right now (the Bobcats are No. 2). Northeastern was ranked No. 1 for the most of the season, until it lost a pair of tournament games to Meadville up in State College. The Bobcats weren't playing their best at that time, though, and also competed in those games without senior hitter Cory Bair, who is a vital cog in Northeastern's offense.

In one sense, playing Meadville in pool play could be a benefit. If Northeastern wins, it could erase any lingering momentum Meadville might carry over from those two earlier wins. A strong showing would also set the tone, should these teams end up meeting the state final (which, considering the way the bracket is set up, looks a good possibility).

Regardless, I'd expect both teams to emerge from a pool which also includes Garden Spot and Bethlehem Catholic. Northeastern swept Garden Spot in the district semifinals.

But what about Eastern? The Golden Knights were in some ways the forgotten team in the area this year, overshadowed by neighbors Northeastern and Central.

Eastern York lucked out a bit here -- if you can really call it that -- in the sense it won't have to get past either Northeastern or Meadville in pool play. The Golden Knights will have to contend with Ambridge, the defending state champion and the champions from District 7. That might be a tall task.

But Eastern stands a good chance against its other two pool play opponents: North Pocono and Huntingdon. Of the two, only North Pocono is ranked in the PVCA's top 10 (its rated 10th). Eastern currently sits at No. 6 in those rankings. Of course, we'd be naive to base too much on those polls, but by the looks of things Eastern has a decent chance to make it past pool play. Any further than that, however, might be a stretch.


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