Playing through injuries solidified Knoch volleyball team’s depth

Monday, November 11, 2019 | 5:54 PM

At practice Monday, Knoch girls volleyball players sat on the gym floor in a circle around coach Diane Geist as they prepared for their state semifinal opponent, District 3 champion Palmyra.

The Knights are in the PIAA semifinals for the third year in a row and will be seeking an appearance in the state finals for the second time when they play the Courgars at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Altoona.

Each run has had its different elements, but what has made this postseason unique is how every player who was sitting in the circle has made a major contribution.

It is well documented Knoch played the WPIAL playoffs with standout middle hitter and Juniata recruit Kennedy Christy sidelined by a concussion and the first two rounds minus Albany recruit and outside hitter Hannah Rowe, who had a back injury.

Naturally, losing two top hitters created adversity, but the Knights turned it into a positive, clawed their way to a third WPIAL title and are a stronger team on the side.

Players such as senior Kayla Carney and junior Mykenzie Werner stepped up and filled in for Christy and Rowe. Now that they have returned, the rotation is deeper, and the bond amongst the team is tighter.

“I don’t think any of us imagined that both of our biggest hitters would be out at the same time, but when we found out, we had a moment where we said to ourselves ‘OK, this is happening,’ and we had to buckle down,” Carney said. “We wanted to show everyone what we were made of and that we can play just as well.”

Christy returned in the first round of states Tuesday, and Rowe came back in Knoch’s WPIAL semifinal win over Franklin Regional.

Carney filled in at outside hitter for Rowe in the rotation. Skylar Burkett, Kate McCarty and Rory McCune split time in the middle, and Quinn Hughes and Morgan Frishkorn were right-side hitters. Werner, Kenzie Kerkan and Ally Albert held down the back row.

“We found a dynamic of how to work together, and whenever (Rowe and Christy) came back, they just slid right back in,” Carney said. “It amped it up a little bit, because they are our two strong and big hitters.”

Werner filled in at the spot where Christy played in the back row. All of the aforementioned players retained roles after Rowe and Christy returned.

They have confidence in each other and will take that with them in the next round.

“It is really exciting to be back where we were last year, and we’ll try to prove ourselves again and get back to where we were two years ago,” Werner said. “I was on the JV team the year we won states, so I didn’t get to go. But last year, I was there for the semifinal game, and it was emotional for everyone.”

The Knights saw their reign as state champions end last year with a loss to Warren in the semifinals, and that will provide motivation for Tuesday.

Palmyra defeated Garden Spot in the District 3 finals. Garden Spot is also in the state semifinals and plays Southern Lehigh on Tuesday. Palmyra is located about 5 miles east of Hershey.

Palmyra swept Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals.

Palmyra features a dynamic outside hitter, senior Taylor McInerney, who is an Austin Peay recruit.

The Knights will be tested in their quest to get back to the state championship match, but given what they have endured to get to this point, it’s safe to say they will be ready.

“It’s crazy to think about, but it’s really cool to know the whole team contributed to the success,” Carney said. “We really had to work together to get where we are now. There was not one person that didn’t contribute to the well-being to where we are now.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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