Knoch girls volleyball relying on young hitters in early going

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021 | 10:11 AM


Now in her 36th year at Knoch, Diane Geist is the longest tenured girls volleyball coach in the WPIAL.

What keeps her coming back to the gym year after year is the process of getting the best out of every player she has.

Two years ago, it was about managing a team with three all-state hitters — Hannah Rowe, Kennedy Christy and Skylar Burkett — that won a third consecutive WPIAL title.

Now the landscape is much different.

The Knights have a lineup consisting of a pair of sophomores and a freshman at the hitting positions and dropped their first four matches to start the season entering a nonsection match with Avonworth on Monday.

“We’ve done pretty well for a really long time, so it’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of challenge, but the challenge is what keeps me going,” she said. “I’m trying to find a way to get the best people on the court at the right times and work on the right things in practice to get us better each day. We’re trying to keep the spirits and positive energy up. That can be tough sometimes when you’re in a losing streak. We’re treating it like any other team. We’re going hard, and we’re trying to play to win and trying to get the best out of the entire team and making sure we are all supporting each other.”

Brynne Smith and Sierra Mock are the sophomores, and Karlee Buterbaugh is the freshman. Geist sees a lot of raw talent in each one, but there have been some consistency issues that come with inexperience. The potential is there, though, for all three to become consistent, heavy hitters.

“We don’t have the big strong hitters that we’ve had in the past right now. We’re kind of waiting on our younger girls to become our big guns, but they are not there yet,” Geist said. “Karlee is a good athlete. She didn’t get a season in seventh grade because of covid canceling (the 2019) spring season, and now she’s starting varsity. She’s raw, but there’s a lot of talent there.”

Knoch has three senior starters: Brynnae Coe (setter), Krystal Ekas (middle hitter) and Nicole Critchlow (defensive specialist).

The Knights’ early season schedule featured three playoff teams in the first four matches in Shaler, Hampton and Freeport, and they faced a much improved Burrell team.

To make matters even more difficult, several players missed games because of covid protocol quarantine. Coe missed the Hampton match with an injury, leaving the Knights without a setter. She has returned to the lineup.

“It’s been an interesting start to the season, but we’re hoping to continue to get better and work hard in practice,” Geist said. “We are finding things to get better at after each game. One of the biggest things has been hitting consistency.”

The schedule didn’t get any easier this week starting with one of the top Class 2A teams, Avonworth on Monday and a pair tough Section 5-3A games with Armstrong and Mars on Tuesday and Thursday.

That won’t deter Geist. She and her players will continue to find things to build on while working on improving themselves each day.

“You don’t want to have a culture of losing,” Geist said. “You want to keep promoting that we want to win, but when you come up short you have to be careful how you handle it. You don’t want to set goals that are out of reach, but yet you want the girls to push themselves and believe that they can do this and get better each game. It’s a fine line between ‘Oh man, we can’t win a game’ and ‘Yeah we can. We just have to keep working.’ ”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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