Freeport, Knoch volleyball teams reflect on PIAA runs

Saturday, November 16, 2019 | 9:17 PM

Only 16 high school girls volleyball teams were left standing last Tuesday as the four classifications moved to the semifinal round of the PIAA playoffs.

Freeport and Knoch were in the mix and hoped to return to the finals where they captured gold in 2017.

However, their postseason runs were not sustained as the Yellowjackets and Knights tasted defeat so close to their goals.

Despite the setbacks, Freeport coach Tom Phillips and Knoch coach Diane Geist were quick to express their pride in how their players represented themselves on the grandest stages in the state.

“Before the girls got off the bus on Tuesday, I reminded them of the 15 straight section championships, another WPIAL championship this year, a 20-1 record,” Phillips said after Freeport’s 3-0 loss to North Catholic at North Allegheny.

“I wanted them to realize they accomplished so much, and they should really be proud of themselves. I told them that they should not hang their heads at all.”

Knoch won the first game of its semifinal match with District 3 champion Palmyra, but the Cougars roared back to win three straight games and hand the Knights (23-2) their first loss of the postseason and just their second loss overall.

“Once the game ended, and I brought them over to talk, the emotions really hit me and hit them,” said Geist of her team, which was recognized by the school board Wednesday evening.

“When I talked to some of them (Wednesday), they were in a better place. I think they had a chance to take a step back and look at what they accomplished and how far they went, again. A lot of them went through the process of trying out for club teams, and finding out the results also was something to focus on.”

Knoch and Freeport made it to the state semifinals for the third year in a row.

The Yellowjackets, paced by the efforts of an experienced group of seniors in Isabella Russo, Maddie and Samantha Clark, Mackensey Jack, Tori Radvan, Cora Crytzer and Lauren Lampus, defeated District 9 champion Brookville and WPIAL foe Beaver Area in the first two rounds of states.

Freeport gained momentum for the PIAA tournament with a pair of emotional 3-2 come-from-behind victories over Avonworth and North Catholic to claim the program’s fifth WPIAL championship since 2010.

“Those matches were true tests, and the girls stuck together, didn’t give up and picked up great wins,” Phillips said. “They showed a lot of heart and maturity by coming back and winning those matches. They were great examples of just how dedicated and determined this team was to winning.”

Phillips said the senior group definitely will be missed, but it opens the door for several younger players to step up into prominent varsity roles and join returnees such as Emily Schmidt and Gianna Dreher, both juniors, and sophomore libero Erica Lampus.

The JV team was undefeated this year, and Phillips said he’s excited for what he calls a strong group of eighth graders to get its chance.

“I am very proud of the girls for the season they had, for the leadership the seniors gave and for the effort they put forth for the program,” Phillips said. “When you’re down to the best four teams in the state, that’s a good effort.”

Injuries to senior standouts Hannah Rowe (back) and Kennedy Christy (concussion) leading up to the WPIAL playoffs put Knoch’s postseason run into question, but Geist said she was excited to see her players rally around each other and keep it going until the team returned to full strength.

The Knights, with Rowe back in the lineup, topped Thomas Jefferson for their third WPIAL title in a row.

Christy returned for the opening round of states, and Knoch defeated South Fayette and Franklin Regional to set up the semifinal opportunity against Palmyra.

“The girls played really well together and got us to where we needed to be so that when they found out (Rowe and Christy) could come back, it was extra special,” Geist said. “I was so happy for the whole team to be at full strength (in the state playoffs). I really am thankful we got as far as we did with some of the circumstances, and I owe that all to the players.”

The Knights also had a large senior contributing core, including Ally Albert, Skylar Burkett, Kayla Carney, Morgan Frishkorn, Kenzie Kerkan and Rory McCune.

Geist said returning juniors Morgan Jack, Quinn Hughes, Kate McCarty and Mykenzie Werner will help lead a group of younger players next year.

“We’ve been telling those younger players that with the large senior group, it will be their time to step up, and that time is now,” Geist said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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