Thomas Jefferson volleyball team proud of section title, playoff run

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Saturday, December 7, 2019 | 10:25 AM


Chalk up yet another successful season for the Thomas Jefferson girls volleyball program.

In 2019, the Jaguars:

• Won their eighth consecutive section championship and 10th in 11 years.

• Earned tournament titles at Derry and South Fayette.

• Advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA finals for a second year in a row.

• Qualified for the championship game for the third time in six years.

• Received the No. 2 seed for the playoffs.

• Competed in the PIAA tournament for a third season in a row.

• Finished 15-1 in the regular season and 19-3 overall.

“I thought we had a great year,” coach Ron Kelly said. “The girls made a good run to get to the WPIAL championship game. That was a well-played match, and we’re proud of their efforts.

“In the state playoffs, we won our first-round match, and in the quarterfinals, we played the No. 1 team in the state. Again, we did a great job and gave them a match.”

The Jaguars, who have won 89 of 92 section matches since 2013, cruised through Section 3, going 14-0, outpacing second-place Laurel Highlands (12-2) and third-place Elizabeth Forward (10-4).

“We had another outstanding year, and I am, obviously, so proud of my team for reaching the WPIAL finals again,” said senior Tanner Patrick, a 5-foot-7 libero and first-team all-section and All-WPIAL selection. “Although we lost both years, we worked so hard to get there and just being there is an accomplishment. Not many teams can say they’ve been in a WPIAL championship.”

The Jaguars defeated Albert Gallatin, 3-0, Chartiers Valley, 3-1, and South Fayette, 3-0, to reach the WPIAL finals, where they lost a 3-1 decision to top-seeded Knoch.

“We worked hard to be in the WPIAL championship both years,” said senior Abby Chalovich, a 5-7 setter who was a first-team all-section and second-team All-WPIAL pick. “Despite the loss, I think we grew closer as a team. I am very grateful for my volleyball experience at TJ. It has brought me friendships and memories I will never forget.”

Thomas Jefferson blanked District 9 champion DuBois, 3-0, in the PIAA first round before losing to District 3 titlist Palmyra, 3-0, in the quarterfinals. TJ also was a PIAA quarterfinalist in 2018.

“We had a good run in the state playoffs, losing in the second round,” Patrick said. “We lost in three sets, but we fought hard, and there is no other way I’d want to go out.”

The Jaguars were an experienced squad with 10 seniors, including defensive specialists Jenna Kisner, Bella Regna, Julia Putignano and Anna Janosko, outside hitters Ashleigh Haines and Kaitlyn Urbanowicz, and middle hitters Tyler Turk and Natasha Yanief, along with Chalovich and Patrick.

The 6-1 Turk was named first-team all-section and All-WPIAL.

“Making it to the WPIAL finals the past two years has been a surreal experience that defines my high school volleyball career,” she said. “TJ volleyball has definitely been the best part of high school for me. It’s brought me all my closest friends and lifelong memories. I am certainly upset my volleyball career has come to an end, but I am so grateful for the past four years and everything they have entailed.”

Yanief, Chalovich, freshman defensive specialist Cate Galioto, Haines, sophomore outside hitter Julia Palmer, junior defensive specialist/right-side hitter Claire Whalen, Turk, junior right-side hitter Lily Rockwell and Patrick made up TJ’s starting rotation.

“TJ volleyball has shaped me into the person I am today,” the 5-9 Haines said. “I’m thankful for the past four years that I have been able to be a part of it. There is nothing that will beat the feeling of playing my favorite sport with my best friends.”

The athletic Yanief, who stands 5-9 and was voted first-team all-section and third-team All-WPIAL, agreed the program provided a solid foundation for her volleyball career.

“I think we had a really successful season even though we didn’t meet our end goal,” Yanief said. “We pushed ourselves and worked extremely hard the past two years to make it to the (WPIAL) finals, and I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Palmer (second team), Galioto (third team) and Rockwell (third team) rounded out the long list of TJ all-section berths.

Patrick believes the Jaguars will maintain their winning tradition in 2020 and beyond.

“My volleyball career at TJ was something I will never forget,” she said. “I met some of the best girls playing the sport I love the most for my school. Playing in front of my community for four years can’t compare to much.

“As sad as I am to move on from (Thomas Jefferson volleyball), it’s in great hands with some outstanding underclassmen who I know will continue to represent.”

Kelly was assisted again this season by Angie Yurkovich and Natalie Meyer.

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