Its WPIAL title defense complete, Knoch volleyball sets sights on PIAA repeat

November 30, 2018

With a second consecutive WPIAL championship in the books, Knoch girls volleyball is getting ready to start another title defense.

Knoch swept Thomas Jefferson, 3-0, to win the Class AAA title Saturday at Fox Chapel and now turns its attention to the state tournament, starting with Elizabeth Forward in the first round 7 p.m. Tuesday at North Catholic.

Elizabeth Forward is the fourth-place team out of the WPIAL.

The Knights (22-0) have won 46 matches in a row, so they expect everyone’s best shot in their attempt to repeat as state champions.

“We’ll be challenged a lot more,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “We’ll have to control our emotions and stay calm, so if we get down three or four points we can keep our composure. The last couple of games have been good practice for that.”

Controlling emotions was a hallmark of Knoch’s WPIAL championship run and proved important Saturday. Knoch was tested in all three sets by the Jaguars but pulled through each time.

Thomas Jefferson led for the most of the first, but the Knights got kills by Skye Burkett and Kennedy Christy and two blocks by Hannah Rowe to rally from a 21-20 deficit with a 5-0 run to close the set.

Thomas Jefferson made a run in the second to tie the score 18-18 before Knoch rebounded to close it out. The Knights trailed again in the third set and used a 6-0 run to take a 17-16 lead, eventually pulling away for a 25-21 win.

“We can maintain a cool mentality, and we know what our capabilities are,” Burkett said. “When we are in the huddle we say, ‘We know who we are. We are No. 1,’ so we play like it.”

Rowe was battling nagging leg ailments Saturday but had a team-best 14 kills. Christy had 12 kills, and Burkett had six kills and four aces.

Knoch also got off to a slow start in the semifinals against Central Valley, falling behind 14-8 in the opening set, but scored 17 of the last 20 points to win.

They would like to come out of the gates a little quicker in the state playoffs.

“We just have to keep pushing. ... That’s the main thing. Keep pushing,” Burkett said. “I’d like for us to get out to a strong lead early. That would be good for us and then just keep doing what we’ve been doing from there.”

Elizabeth Forward (13-5) finished third in the Section 3 standings behind Thomas Jefferson and Laurel Highlands but pulled two upsets as the No. 10 seed in the WPIAL tournament to earn a PIAA berth.

The Warriors swept No. 7 South Fayette in the first round and topped No. 2 Armstrong, 3-1, in the quarterfinals. They lost 3-1 to Thomas Jefferson in the semifinals.

Elizabeth Forward battled injuries in the regular season but is healthy now. The Warriors boast two 6-foot-1 middle hitters in Kaitlin Fournier and Brianna Spirnak.

Knoch is ranked No. 1 by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. Somerset, DuBois and Thomas Jefferson are the other teams that return in the west side of the bracket. The Knights defeated Somerset in the first round last year and could see them in the second round.

Allentown Central Catholic, which Knoch beat in the PIAA title game last year, highlights the eastern side of the bracket. West York, a state semifinalist last year, is on the other side.

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