Knoch girls volleyball beats Thomas Jefferson for 3rd straight WPIAL title

Saturday, November 2, 2019 | 11:18 PM

In its playoff run, Knoch girls volleyball proved how strong a team it is by grinding out wins without standout hitters Kennedy Christy and Hannah Rowe.

On Saturday in the WPIAL finals, Rowe showed how good a player she is, and delivered a three-peat for the Knights.

Rowe, surrounded by teammates who scratched and clawed their way through bracket, posted 21 kills and 14 blocks to propel the top-seeded Knights to a 3-1 victory over No. 2 Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL Class 3A championship at Fox Chapel.

The win completed a trilogy of gold medal performances for the Knights (18-1), and it was their second consecutive win in the final over the Jaguars (18-2).

“I’m so ecstatic that we were able to do this,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “I can’t thank the girls enough. It’s just a great feeling.”

Rowe returned to action in Knoch’s 3-0 semifinal win over Franklin Regional on Wednesday after being out since Oct. 7 with a back injury, but Saturday’s match was her first start in almost a month. To be able to play in the final and win a third consecutive title was a special moment.

“It’s a feeling that not a lot of people get to experience and one that I’m so grateful for,” Rowe said about winning three consecutive championships. “We don’t take it for granted.”

Skylar Burkett added 10 kills and five blocks for the Knights, who played without Christy.

“I can’t wait to put all three of my gold medals around my neck when I get home and run around all over the house,” Burkett said.

Rowe set the tone early with eight kills in a back-and-forth first set. Thomas Jefferson led 23-22, but a hitting error by the Jaguars tied the score. Rowe got a block to give the Knights a 24-23 lead. The teams traded points on three consecutive volleys, which made the score 25-25, and then Rowe had back-to-back kills to give the Knights a 27-25 victory.

“I know almost their entire team, so it was definitely a motivator for me to pound through their block as much as I could,” Rowe said. “It felt good to show them I can do it even though I was out for so long.”

Knoch cruised to a 25-15 win in the second set before Thomas Jefferson rallied for a 25-19 win in the third to keep the match going.

Thomas Jefferson led 12-11 in the fourth, but a block and two kills by Rowe highlighted a 4-0 run that gave Knoch the lead for good. Ally Albert had an ace that got Knoch to match point, and Rowe finished the match off with a kill.

“They are a great team,” Thomas Jefferson coach Ron Kelly said. “I respect Diane and that whole group. Hannah is really good. One thing they did today with Kennedy out is put her in the middle some. Hannah and my libero (Tanner Patrick) play on the same club team, so they know each other well. They knew we knew what they were going to do and vice versa, so it came down to who executed better. They executed better in Game 2 by a lot.”

Each title in Knoch’s run has had its own flavor. In 2017 it was a senior-laden group led by Sarah Armahizer breaking through for the program’s first championship. Last year it was a changing of the guard with Rowe, Christy, Burkett, Kenzie Kerkan and Kerrie Fitzpatrick leading the way. This year’s run might have been the most impressive.

With Rowe and Christy out, Morgan Frishkorn, Rory McCune, Mykenzie Werner, Kate McCarty, Quinn Hughes and Burkett stepped up to fill the hitting void and willed the team to playoff wins over Woodland Hills, West Allegheny and Franklin Regional.

“I had faith in our team, and we wanted to prove that we could do it as a team,” Burkett said. “They play back row, too, so really it was like having four players out. We overcame so many challenges, and that’s awesome. We’re closer this year than we have been in my four years. With what we had to overcome, I think that was important.”

Natasha Yanief led the Jaguars with 13 kills.

Knoch turns its attention to trying to win its second PIAA championship in three years. The Knights play South Fayette in the first round Tuesday. Thomas Jefferson faces District 9 champion DuBois.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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