Knoch sweeps Thomas Jefferson to capture 2nd straight WPIAL volleyball title

Saturday, November 3, 2018 | 7:33 PM

Knoch girls volleyball coach Diane Geist talked with her team about staying calm in the moment.

It turned out to be a good message, because every time Thomas Jefferson made a run to potentially steal a set, the Knights showed the resolve of a champion and successfully defended their title.

Top-seeded Knoch fought off a tough challenge from No. 3 Thomas Jefferson to earn a 3-0 victory and secure its second consecutive WPIAL Class AAA title Saturday at Fox Chapel.

The Knights (22-0) won each set 25-21 to secure their 46th consecutive win.

“This means so much,” said setter Kerrie Fitzpatrick, Knoch’s lone senior. “This was our goal from Day 1. We put in so much work this year, and this is the payoff.”

Hannah Rowe gave Knoch the lead in the third with a kill, Quinn Hughes and Kennedy Christy followed with blocks an a net violation by Thomas Jefferson clinched match point.

The Knights graduated six seniors from last year’s team but again showed the athletic ability that fueled their playoff run. Rowe, who fought through a couple of nagging injuries, had 14 kills, Christy had 12, Skylar Burkett had six kills and four aces and Fitzpatrick had three kills and an ace.

“I think they have enough confidence deep down that, when push comes to shove, they know they are going to pull through, and they showed that today,” Geist said. “They were down a couple of times, and they could’ve folded, but that’s not the type of kids they are. They’re competitive.”

Knoch was tested in each set, but passed each time.

Thomas Jefferson (18-2) was seeking its first title in 17 years and led most of the way in the first. The Jaguars held a 20-18 advantage and looked like they could steal the set, but Knoch started its comeback. Back-to-back kills by Christy and Burkett tied the set.

Ashleigh Hanes restored Thomas Jefferson’s lead with a kill, but Knoch responded with a 5-0 run to clinch the set. Christy and Burkett had kills, which were followed by a pair of blocks by Rowe.

“I never lost faith in us when we were down,” Fitzpatrick said. “Ever since that Central Valley (quarterfinal) when we came back, I knew we had it in us. I saw how we picked it up, and we had a strong rotation. We executed, and that’s how we won.”

The Knights rolled out to a 20-13 lead in the second, but it was Thomas Jefferson’s turn to rally with a 6-0 run to cut the lead to one. Rowe aggravated knee and ankle injuries in the middle of the set but remained in the match. At times wincing with pain, she persevered and tallied three important kills that put Knoch in front 23-21 before a TJ hitting error and a block by Christy ended the set.

“I didn’t feel too hot after (the injury),” Rowe said. “I just tried not to think about it and focus on the game. I knew everyone around me was picking me up. Without them encouraging me, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Geist said she was worried about Rowe but was happy to see her shake off the pain.

“I asked if she wanted to sub out, and she said she was good,” Geist said. “I don’t really have a sub for her. She plays middle and outside, so we’d probably have to put two different people in for her.”

Knoch fell behind 16-11 in the third but again rallied, using a 6-0 run to take the lead. Rowe had a kill and a block, and Christy had a pair of aces during the run.

The teams traded points until Knoch closed on a 3-0 run to end it.

With it’s WPIAL championship successfully defended, the Knights will turn to defending their state championship when they face Elizabeth Forward in the first round Tuesday. Thomas Jefferson faces District 9 champion DuBois in the PIAA first round.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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