Knoch, Freeport volleyball teams seek repeat of 2017 PIAA titles

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Sunday, November 3, 2019 | 5:08 PM


In 2017, the Knoch and Freeport volleyball teams played the final three matches of their PIAA championship runs in the same location.

The Knights followed the Yellowjackets on the court in the quarterfinals at Slippery Rock High School, the semifinals at Seneca Valley High School and the finals at Richland High School in Johnstown.

The former section rivals, separated by nine miles of driving distance, created buzz in their title journeys two years ago.

It remains to be seen if they will be able to carve out similar paths this year, but the WPIAL champions — both captured titles Saturday at Fox Chapel High School — hope to share the gym Nov. 16 at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg for the championships.

“It would be neat to make another run together,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “This is where both programs expect to be every year. The goal is a state championship, and we both are set up well to get there.”

Freeport (18-0) and Knoch (19-1) open the state playoffs Tuesday evening at Shaler Area.

The Yellowjackets, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit for the section straight match and defeated No. 1 North Catholic in the Class AA final, face District 9 champion Brookville (17-3) at 6 p.m.

“This is a great time of the year, for sure,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “It was an amazing atmosphere at Fox Chapel. Now, going into the state playoffs, we’ve talked about being one of the last teams in the state to have to put our stuff away.”

The Knights, who completed a WPIAL Class AAA three-peat with Saturday’s 3-1 win against No. 2 Thomas Jefferson, take on South Fayette, the No. 4 team from the WPIAL, at 7:30.

“We hadn’t really talked much about states throughout the season,” Geist said. “Our main goal at the start of the season was to three-peat (WPIALs). We have one practice (Monday) before we start states. It’s always a quick turnaround.”

Freeport’s 2017 state title was the first in program history, and it came on the heels of a tough 3-2 loss to Beaver in the WPIAL title match a few weeks earlier.

After handling Bald Eagle Area in a first-round sweep, the Yellowjackets gained revenge against Beaver with a 3-1 win in the quarterfinals.

Freeport then rallied after losing the first game to Delone Catholic in the championship match and won three straight games to take the title.

The Yellowjackets, in the state playoffs for the seventh year in a row and ninth time in the past 10 years, have not made it past the quarterfinals in their previous four trips as WPIAL champions.

Knoch hopes to claim its second PIAA title.

The Knights swept District 5 champion Somerset and District 10 champion General McLane in the first two rounds of the 2017 state tournament and then went five sets in the semifinals to topple Montour in a WPIAL championship-game rematch.

The year before, Knoch placed third in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament and advanced to the state quarterfinals.

In 2013, as the WPIAL No. 3 team in Class AA, the Knights bowed out of the PIAA playoffs in the first round.

Knoch and Freeport hope to fully bury the memory of last year’s back-to-back state semifinal losses to Warren and Bald Eagle Area, respectively, at Clarion High School.

BEA went on to win the Class AA state title, and Warren finished Class AAA runner-up.

“You have to be careful when you get to states about being able to maintain that high level from the emotion of the WPIAL playoffs,” Phillips said. “They call it the WPIAL hangover. It’s such an emotional high to win a WPIAL championship, and so much emphasis is put on it. But us and Knoch, we got the taste of (PIAA) success in 2017, and it was a fun ride. We hope we can do it again.”

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

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