Knoch volleyball ready to defend WPIAL Class AAA championship against TJ
Knoch girls volleyball will go for a second consecutive WPIAL Class AAA title when it faces No. 3 Thomas Jefferson at 4 p.m. Saturday at Fox Chapel, but a title defense wasn’t something Knights coach Diane Geist talked about with her team on Day 1.
Geist didn’t bring up the subject initially because the Knights graduated six seniors, including standouts like Sarah Armahizer and Bethany Nulph. She wanted to let the top returners grow together with those taking the roles of departed seniors without the expectations of getting back to the WPIAL title game.
“It was a different team this year, so that goal came along gradually,” Geist said. “We had to work on our basics, and then this team had to find its own identity.”
The identity the Knights found revolves around athletic ability in all areas on the court, and it has helped them have an opportunity to defend their WPIAL crown.
The Knights (21-0) have won 45 consecutive matches dating back through last season.
Knoch’s trio of junior hitters -- Skye Burkett, Hannah Rowe and Kennedy Christy -- have their fair share of kills in the playoffs thus far, working with setter Kerrie Fitzpatrick, the lone senior on the team.
They also are versatile enough to play in the back row, which keeps them on the court. Kenzie Kerkan also provides solid defense as the team’s libero.
Knoch’s athleticism showed through in its wins over Kiski Area on Tuesday in the quarterfinals and Central Valley on Thursday in the semifinals. Both matches were 3-0 sweeps that lasted just over an hour.
Burkett, Rowe and Christy had good performances against Central Valley. Christy and Rowe had a dozen kills each and Burkett had eight kills.
Geist tweaked the rotation a bit in the last couple weeks, which has allowed Fitzpatrick some opportunities to swing for kills to go along with her setting duties.
“We’re playing pretty well,” Geist said. “I’d still like to see a little better defense, but our defense did pick up in the third set (Thursday). I think there’s still a little bit left for us with our defense. We’re trying a new lineup and still getting used to that.
“We’re mixing things up a little bit and trying to put people in the best possible positions to succeed.”
Thomas Jefferson topped No. 10 Elizabeth Forward, 3-1, to advance to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2014 when it lost to Ford City. The Jaguars have one WPIAL title, which came in 2001.
Knoch’s WPIAL and PIAA titles last season were the first in program history.
Rowe felt like she got caught up in the whirlwind of last year’s run and didn’t take any time to enjoy it in the moment.
She wants to savor everything this time around and that includes the opportunity to become a two-time WPIAL champion.
“We just want to have fun,” Rowe said. “When we made our run last year we didn’t realize what we had done until it was all done and over with. We have to cherish every moment we have together, because this isn’t going to last forever. At the same time, we still have to make sure we stay focused and serious.”