Thomas Jefferson girls volleyball returns plenty of offense

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Friday, September 13, 2019 | 6:52 PM


Thomas Jefferson girls volleyball coach Ron Kelly exudes confidence, and with good reason.

TJ won its seventh consecutive section title and finished as the WPIAL Class AAA runner-up last season. Many of last year’s starters are back.

“This year’s team will be really good,” Kelly said. “We will be built a little different than last year. We lost our top four defensive specialists, but we have all of our hitters and our setter returning. So I do have high expectations for this group.”

Among the many skilled players in the program, Kelly expects seniors Tanner Patrick, Abby Chalovich, Tyler Turk and Natasha Yanief to emerge as leaders.

“Tanner is switching from outside hitter to our libero. She will be anchoring our serve-receive and defense,” Kelly said. “Abby is our setter and will be controlling the tempo of our offense. Both Tanner and Abby are very good servers.

“Tyler and Natasha are our two returning middles. They will set the tone for our hitting and blocking. They give us two strong middles, and it sort of sets us apart from most other teams.”

Patrick was looking forward to the start of the regular season at her new position and as one of the team leaders.

“I am very excited to be the new libero this season,” she said. “I have big shoes to fill with Sydney Moran graduating. However, I’m always up for new challenges and hope to be half of the player Sydney was.

“We have such a great group of seniors who are such great leaders. Not only are we close on the court but also off the court. Our bond is so strong that we hope to inspire our younger girls to play and work together the same way.”

Chalovich chimed in about the seniors being the backbone of the 2019 squad. There are 10 seniors on the team: Patrick, Chalovich, Turk, Yanief, outside hitters Ashleigh Haines and Kaitlyn Urbanowicz, plus defensive specialists Jenna Kisner, Anna Janosko, Julia Putignano and Bella Regna.

Chalovich, Patrick, Turk, Yanief, Haines and Lily Rockwell, a junior right-side hitter, have been joined in TJ’s early season rotation by sophomore OH Julia Palmer and, in the back row, freshman Cate Galioto, junior Claire Whalen and Kisner.

“One of our team strengths is experience,” Chalovich said. “We have many girls that were on the court last year. We know what it takes to get to the championship. We are using last year’s loss (in the WPIAL finals) to motivate us to get back and win this year.

“Another strength is our sense of unity. We support each other and push each other to be better. We have familiarity and trust on the court.”

The Jaguars concentrated on building camaraderie during preseason practices.

“We focused a lot on serve-receive and defense during the offseason,” Chalovich said. “We lost our defensive players from last year, so we are looking to replace them in the back row. We have been working to improve our serve-receive so we can run our offense more effectively.”

TJ’s junior varsity went 15-1 a year ago, losing only to Central Valley in a nonsection match.

Kelly said some of the younger girls on the team might crack the regular rotation by season’s end.

“We have a solid freshman class, and a few players might push for playing time,” he said.

TJ is a member of Section 3-3A, along with Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Uniontown and Yough.

“Our section might be the strongest section up top,” Kelly said. “Our top three teams are as good as any section in our classification. This will make this year extra challenging, but it will also prepare us for the playoffs.”

Patrick, who along with the 6-foot-1 Turk competed for Revolution Volleyball in the offseason, said the Jaguars have their sights set on another section title and long playoff run.

“We are in a very tough section with Laurel Highlands and EF,” she said, “but our goal is to win the section and make it back to the WPIAL championship and hopefully win it this year.”

Chalovich is hoping the TJ girls can keep climbing the ladder of success. The top four teams in WPIAL Class AAA last year were Knoch, TJ, Central Valley and EF.

“I have extremely high expectations,” Chalovich said. “With all of our hitters returning, I expect our front row to dominate.

“Our goal is to win the section again and make it back to the WPIAL championship. We were third in the WPIAL two years ago and second last year, so this year our objective is to win.”

The TJ girls have won nine section championships in 10 years and have gone 75-3 in section play over the past six seasons.

The Jaguars tied for first with Laurel Highlands in section play last season.

They prepared by participating in the Greentree league this summer.

“We did well,” Kelly said. “Our net play was strong.”

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