Thomas Jefferson girls hope for rematch after WPIAL runner-up finish

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Friday, November 9, 2018 | 6:42 PM


It boiled down to just four points.

The difference between first and second place in the WPIAL Class AAA girls volleyball division was four points.

Times three.

Knoch, No. 1 in the Trib HSSN Class AAA rankings all season, defeated Thomas Jefferson, 3-0, at the WPIAL finals Nov. 3 at Fox Chapel.

The top-seeded Knights won by the identical score of 25-21 in all three games, despite the TJ girls holding leads along the way.

“Knoch was a well-motivated team with great coaching,” said Tanner Patrick, a 5-foot-6 outside hitter for the Jaguars. “We have faced great competition this season, and Knoch would most definitely be included. We played our hearts out, but they earned that win.

“I will always remember the feeling of being in the WPIAL finals. We have worked so hard to get where we are today. Our team played great together during the playoffs.”

The No. 3 Jaguars, looking to win their first WPIAL title in 17 years, jumped out to 6-3, 7-4, 8-5 and 10-6 advantages in Game 1 against Knoch, and maintained a one- or two-point cushion until Knoch tied it at 20-20.

It was a different story in Game 2. The Knights were in control most of the way, building up a 19-11 advantage. Unforced errors created havoc for the TJ girls early in the game.

But with junior setter Abby Chalovich and senior defensive specialist Julia Micklo serving, plus sophomore right-side hitter Lillian Rockwell and juniors Tyler Turk (MH) and Tanner Patrick (OH) providing a strong presence at the net area, TJ went on an impressive 8-1 run to whittle the deficit to 20-19.

The Jaguars couldn’t quite catch the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions, however.

Game 3 was a nip-and-tuck affair with seven ties and three lead changes. TJ led throughout the game’s first half, thanks in part to some dynamic kills by junior outside hitter Ashleigh Haines, junior middle hitter Natasha Yanief, Patrick and the 6-1 Turk. Haines and Yanief, in particular, were explosive.

The Jaguars went ahead 5-3, 11-7, 13-9 and 15-12 until Knoch rattled off six straight points to take a 17-15 lead.

Tied at 17-17, the Knights then won eight of the game’s final 12 points.

Yanief’s powerful wind-up spike delivery on blasts at the net resulted in several key points for her team and kept the Jaguars in contention.

In the end, the Knights proved to be four points better than the TJ girls.

“I think our team played well throughout the playoffs and definitely deserved to be in the WPIAL championship,” Chalovich said. “However, I feel that as a team, we did not play our best against Knoch.

“They are a great team, probably the best we’ve played this season, but I’d love a rematch in states to show our team’s full potential. I think we have a great team connection and will make a run in states.”

The Jaguars’ starting rotation in the WPIAL finals consisted of Sydney Moran, Yanief, Micklo, Patrick, Chalovich, Julia Fiedor, Haines, Turk and Rockwell. Moran is a senior libero; Fiedor is a senior setter/defensive specialist.

“Our team has great skill,” Patrick said, “but our relationships with each other are remarkable. We’ve pulled together wins with our teamwork.”

Knoch improved to 22-0 overall, and extended their winning streak to 46 matches in a row. TJ took an 18-2 record into the PIAA playoffs.

The Jaguars defeated No. 14 Greensburg Salem, 3-0, No. 11 Franklin Regional, 3-2, and No. 10 Elizabeth Forward, 3-1, in advancing to the WPIAL finals.

“We played Franklin Regional in the quarterfinals and that was not our best game,” Patrick said. “But as a team we came together and pulled out a win for our seniors to qualify for states.

“We played EF, our biggest rival in our section, in the semis. We always have hard-fought matches with them, and being mentally strong was important. We knew EF was prepared to fight for a WPIAL title; playing them was a great challenge for our team. I would consider that game as being one of our best this season. Every girl showed up to win, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Knoch rolled past No. 16 Ambridge, 3-1, No. 8 Kiski Area, 3-0, and No. 4 Central Valley, 3-0, in the WPIAL’s first three rounds.

The Knights faced Elizabeth Forward on Nov. 6 in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. TJ opposed District 9 champion DuBois.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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