Knoch girls volleyball digs deep, overcomes injuries to advance in WPIAL playoffs

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019 | 4:39 PM


Having two all-state volleyball players missing from a rotation might derail any number of teams, but the Knoch girls squad has used its depth and veteran leadership to stay in the WPIAL playoff mix.

Playing without seniors Hannah Rowe and Kennedy Christy, their two top hitters, because of injury, the Knights were able to dig deep in Monday’s quarterfinals against West Allegheny and remain alive in their bid for a WPIAL title three-peat.

“We’re going from a No. 1 seed to almost being an underdog,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “It makes getting to the semifinals that much more satisfying. We’re taking each match as it comes and preparing the best we can. We have a nice group of seniors and others who know how to get it done in the playoffs. Those who haven’t had as much playing time have been thrust into the lineup and are playing well.”

Knoch, 17-1 overall, will face 16-0 Franklin Regional in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at North Allegheny.

The winner will face the winner of No. 2 Thomas Jefferson and No. 3 South Fayette in the finals at 4 p.m. Saturday at Fox Chapel.

“I know they have a few athletic girls and a tall middle,” senior hitter Skylar Burkett said of the Section 1 champion Panthers. “It will be a challenge, but we’re going into the match with confidence.”

Franklin Regional, the No. 4 seed, advanced to the semifinals with Monday’s 3-0 victory over No. 12 Armstrong. The Panthers feature junior Aly Kindelberger, a DePaul recruit who finished with 18 kills and seven blocks against the River Hawks.

“They are a pretty solid team all the way around,” Geist said.

Geist said she doesn’t know if Rowe or Christy will be able to return in the playoffs.

Knoch fell behind West Allegheny with a 25-13 loss in Game 1 but roared back with a 25-11 win in Game 2.

“We all knew we could do way better than what we put out in the first game,” Burkett said. “We were making silly errors that we never usually make, like shanked balls and communication errors. Once we cleaned those up and got back a positive mentality, we trusted each other and were able to get back confidently into the match.”

The Knights went on to post 25-18 and 25-20 wins to close out a 3-1 triumph.

“We knew the last game was going to be the hardest,” Geist said. “I kept telling them, ‘One point at a time, one point at a time.’”

Burkett recorded a team-best 16 kills, while junior middle hitter Kate McCarty added eight more kills. Senior libero Kenzie Kerkan and senior defensive specialist Ally Albert each had 10 service points.

Geist noted that players such as senior outside hitter Kayla Carney and junior defensive back row Mykenzie Werner had strong games.

“There is good chemistry in the rotation right now,” Geist said.

In addition to advancing to the semifinals, Monday’s victory also placed Knoch in the PIAA playoffs for the fourth year in a row. The four Class AAA semifinalists qualify.

“I wasn’t even thinking about (the state playoffs) after (Monday’s) game,” Geist said. “In the postgame huddle, one of the girls said, ‘We made states!’ I must have jumped up and down or something like that when I realized we did make it.”

“We’re all very excited to get back to the state playoffs, too,” Burkett said. “We hope Kennedy and Hannah can come back, but we’re going to keep pushing, no matter what.”

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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