WPIAL volleyball champs Freeport, Knoch eager to begin PIAA title quests

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Monday, November 4, 2019 | 7:41 PM


Shaler Area will be a volleyball hotspot Tuesday as WPIAL champions Freeport and Knoch open the PIAA playoffs with back-to-back matchups.

The undefeated Yellowjackets (18-0) will face District 9 champion Brookville at 6 p.m., and the Knights (21-1) will battle South Fayette at 7:30.

“We’re playing with so much momentum right now,” Knoch senior libero Kenzie Kerkan said Monday, as she and her teammates prepared for the match.

The Knights turned away four challengers in the WPIAL tournament, and they claimed their third straight title with Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Thomas Jefferson.

“We have to refocus and bring our best game (Tuesday),” Kerkan said. “South Fayette is a really good team. They have a scrappy defense and some really powerful hitters. Hopefully, we can play good defense, control their hitters and drain their energy.”

Knoch received good news as coach Diane Geist confirmed senior hitter and Juniata commit Kennedy Christy was cleared to return to the lineup. She missed the WPIAL playoffs, recovering from a concussion.

South Fayette (16-2) has had a couple of extra days of rest after the Section 2 champion and WPIAL No. 3 seed lost to Thomas Jefferson, 3-1, in the semifinals.

“South Fayette always has a strong program,” Geist said. “They have a good opposite hitter, a left-hander, in (senior) Lauren Saulle. When she’s on, she’s very good. You don’t see many left-handers put the ball down like that.”

Saulle had 11 kills against Thomas Jefferson.

The Lions are in the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2015. Junior setter Isabella Franjione and junior outside hitter Lilah Speca are key contributors.

“We’re confident going into Tuesday, but not overconfident,” said Knights senior Hannah Rowe, who delivered 21 kills and 14 blocks in the WPIAL title game. “Each round now is a battle, and we’re going to keep pushing to reach our goals.”

Freeport hopes to keep rolling after two come-from-behind victories to cap the WPIAL playoffs. The Yellowjackets rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the semifinals against Avonworth and did it again Saturday against North Catholic to claim the program’s fifth WPIAL title.

“(Saturday) was just an outstanding performance from so many on the team,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “They showed that never-say-lose attitude. We talked about going into the playoffs as a hot team and being a team that no one wanted to face. We’ve been able to check two boxes off our goal list with the section and WPIAL championships. Now, we have one more box left. We hope to be playing until Thanksgiving.”

The Yellowjackets, in the state playoffs for the seventh year in a row, face a Brookville team in the state tournament for the first time since 2003.

The Raiders (17-3) punched their ticket to states with a victory Saturday over Kane. Seniors Morgan Johnson, Lauren Hergert, Leah Kammerdeiner and Madison Johnson helped lead the way.

“Just like the WPIAL playoffs, you have to be prepared for anything, and you can’t look past anyone,” Phillips said. “You just have to take one step at a time and stay focused. For us, that focus is on Brookville and getting that first win Tuesday.

“I don’t think we’ll change anything or put in anything new. We just want to keep working hard on the things that have worked well for us.”

The excitement and anticipation for the start of the PIAA playoffs is at a high level, said defensive specialist Cora Crytzer, one of seven Freeport seniors experiencing the state tournament for the fourth time.

“Winning on Saturday gave us a ton of momentum and motivation to come into practice (Monday) and work hard,” Crytzer said. “We can’t rest on what we’ve already done. There’s still so much to accomplish.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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