Knoch volleyball poised for WPIAL 3-peat, other A-K Valley teams ready to contend

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 | 6:24 PM

When the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association released its preseason top-10 rankings Monday, two-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champion Knoch topped the list.

With only one player – setter Kerrie Fitzpatrick – lost to graduation, the Knights are poised to make another run at WPIAL gold and return to the top spot in the state. The 2017 PIAA champion, Knoch reached the semifinals last season.

“There’s definitely a lot of excitement, but we’re trying not to look too far ahead,” said senior outside hitter Hannah Rowe, an Albany commit who earned her second all-state honors last season.

“The majority of us played club this past offseason, and it’s been about coming back and meshing with this team. It’s still early, but I think we are coming together pretty well.”

Knoch is building around a nucleus includes senior all-state middle hitter and Juniata recruit Kennedy Christy, senior outside hitter/setter Skylar Burkett, senior libero Kenzie Kerkan, junior middle hitter Kate McCarty and senior defensive specialist Ally Albert.

“We’re just trying to take things game by game and just focus on what’s happening now,” Christy said. “Being able to (WPIAL) three-peat would be great, but we have to make sure everything is in place now and progress in each practice and match.”

Knoch tested its mettle over the weekend in a quad-scrimmage with Butler and Quaker Valley at Freeport, and Knights coach Diane Geist appreciated the opportunity to see where her team stands. She also appreciated the intensity the Knights displayed when they shared the court with Freeport.

“We had two weeks of long practices without playing any other teams, and it’s tough sometimes to get motivated to play at your highest level,” she said. “There’s always a nice rivalry with Freeport, and both teams were going pretty hard. It was exciting to watch.”

Freeport, the 2017 PIAA Class AA state champion, will compete for its 15th consecutive section championship. It finished 12-0 in Section 5-AA last year and earned the top seed for the WPIAL playoffs but saw its goal of its fourth WPIAL title in six seasons stopped by No. 4 Frazier in the semifinals.

The Yellowjackets also saw their bid for back-to-back state titles end with a semifinal loss to Bald Eagle Area.

“The girls have worked hard and accomplished a lot all throughout the summer and in preseason practices,” said Tom Phillips, who welcomes back seven seniors. “There are a lot of girls with a lot of experience who have been there before and know what needs to be done. You can see they are in great condition and ready to do some good things.”

All-state performers in seniors Maddie Clark (setter) and Lauren Lampus (outside hitter) lead a group that includes seniors Mackensey Jack (outside hitter), Isabella Russo (middle hitter), Samantha Clark (setter/opposite) and Cora Crytzer (defensive specialist).

Senior Tori Radvan (outside hitter) returns to the court after missing last season with a knee injury.

Deer Lakes, which finished 8-4 (third place) in Section 5-AA last year, went into the offseason with momentum after beating No. 4 OLSH in the playoffs before taking runner-up Frazier to five sets in the quarterfinals.

An experienced nucleus is led by returning starters in seniors Renee Robson (setter), Mia Jarnot (right side) and Desiree Herman (middle hitter) and juniors Cam Simurda (outside hitter) and Christiana Saldamarco (libero).

“We have to play the game, and I don’t like to make any predictions, but I like the way we are looking right now,” Lancers coach Terry Gaston said. “We have a tough section again, but I think we’ll be right there.”

Burrell, which is paced by returning all-conference performers in senior Sara Novak and sophomore Anna Novak, hopes to make a move up the Section 5-AA standings after last year’s playoff trip.

The Bucs, 6-6 (fourth) in section play, drew No. 2 seed and eventual WPIAL champion North Catholic in the first round and bowed out in straight sets.

Leechburg enters the season with a No. 8 ranking in the WPVCA Class A poll, and coach Eve Hebrank is optimistic her team can make another run in Section 4-A.

“We were excited to see ourselves there and to see the amount of teams from our section on that poll,” she said. “It shows how competitive our section is. The respect (from the coaches) is motivation moving forward.”

The Blue Devils finished 10-4 in the section, behind Greensburg Central Catholic (14-0), and lost to South Side 3-1 in a WPIAL first-round matchup. Hebrank said the team is paced by a group of seniors that includes Brenna Callahan (outside hitter), Grace Reinke (libero), Ava Powell (middle hitter), Maddie Ancosky (outside hitter) and Ashley Grine (middle hitter).

“This is the moment they’ve been waiting for,” Hebrank said.

Despite losing several seniors, including all-state setter/right side hitter Cassie Shoupe (St. Francis, Pa.), to graduation, Kiski Area hopes to make another run in Section 1-AAA.

The Cavaliers, who return senior middle hitter Lilliana Harding, senior outside hitter Violeta Kenzevich, and senior setter/right side/outside hitter Kamdyn Serakowski, earned the No. 8 seed for last year’s WPIAL playoffs, their second postseason trip in a row, and swept West Allegheny in the first round before losing to Knoch in the quarterfinals.

Riverview, paced by all-conference senior setter Aleah Walendiewicz, just missed a playoff spot last year in Section 4-A. The Raiders finished a game behind Vincentian and Trinity Christian (both 8-6) for the fourth playoff spot.

Fox Chapel (3-9, Section 1-AAAA), Plum (0-12, Section 3-AAAA), Apollo-Ridge (2-10, Section 5-AA), Valley (2-10, Section 5-AA), Springdale (3-11, Section 4-A) and St. Joseph (0-14, Section 4-A) missed the playoffs last season.

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

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