Palmyra ends Knoch’s volleyball season in state semifinals

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019 | 8:30 PM


Things started well for the Knoch girls volleyball team in Tuesday’s PIAA Class AAA semifinal against Palmyra at Altoona High School.

The Knights outlasted the Cougars 27-25 in a competitive first game and hoped to build on the gained momentum.

But the District 3 champion didn’t waver.

Palmyra, undefeated in 23 matches entering the contest with Knoch, rallied for wins in the next three games — 25-23, 25-18 and 25-9 — and handed Knoch a season-ending 3-1 loss.

“They obviously outplayed us. They were the better team tonight,” said Knoch senior Hannah Rowe, who tallied 11 kills and 12 blocks in the loss. “I think we could’ve beat them if we played to our top level, but we just fell short. The loss hurts, but I am grateful for the season we had and all that we accomplished.”

Palmyra’s Game 2 victory ended an eight-game winning streak for Knoch (21-2) that dated back to the fourth and final game of its WPIAL title triumph over Thomas Jefferson. The Knights punched their ticket to the semifinals with PIAA tournament sweeps of South Fayette and Franklin Regional.

“I think they kind of wore us out as the match went on. That’s what good teams do,” said Knoch coach Diane Geist, who guided her team to the PIAA semifinals for the third year in a row.

“That caused us to make a few too many mistakes, and they took advantage of that. The girls kept battling, but I think they were getting frustrated and they were trying a little too hard. Palmyra was just a little more disciplined in their execution.”

Palmyra, in the PIAA tournament for the fourth year in a row, will make the first trip to the state championship game in program history.

The Cougars (23-0) earned a spot in the semifinals with Saturday’s sweep of Thomas Jefferson.

“We took a long time analyzing Knoch,” Cougars head coach Clark Sheaffer said. “We were blessed to have (Thomas Jefferson) and Knoch playing each other on film. We were really concerned with what Knoch could do. (Rowe) and (senior Kennedy Christy) are dynamic hitters, their libero is strong, and they have a nice setter. That’s a great team.

“It took us a while to figure them out, their strengths and weaknesses, who should we serve and who should we key on. After that, we were able to settle in and play our game.”

Palmyra opened an 8-2 lead in Game 4 and kept extending the advantage until senior outside hitter Taylor McInerney, an Austin Peay commit, delivered back-to-back kills to finish off the game and the match for the Cougars. McInerney led Palmyra with 20 kills.

Knoch fell behind 2-0 in Game 1 on a bad opening serve and a two-hits violation. But the Knights responded with a 6-0 run, paced by kills from Skylar Burkett and Rowe and a Burkett ace.

The lead swelled to as much as seven on three occasions, including 17-10, before Palmyra rallied.

The Cougars took a 21-20 lead, and the rest of the game went back and forth until a Rory McCune hit put Knoch on the brink of victory at 26-25.

A Palmyra hit that sailed long secured the opening game for the Knights.

Game 2 appeared to be a Palmyra runaway as the Cougars built a 15-7 advantage.

But Knoch battled back and pulled to within one at 20-19 on a Palmyra hitting error, 21-20 on a kill from Rowe and 24-23 on a combined block from Rowe and Quinn Hughes.

But the Cougars held on, and a push kill from Allie Stovall capped a 25-23 victory.

Palmyra took control in Game 3 with an 8-1 lead it maintained to 19-11 and 20-13. Knoch attempted to rally, but the Cougars kept the Knights at arm’s length, and a four-hits violation gave Palmyra the 25-18 victory.

“This wasn’t the result the girls wanted, but they have a lot to be proud of, and I am very proud of them,” Geist said. “(Palmyra) was the better team tonight, but the girls have nothing to hang their heads about.”

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

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