Thomas Jefferson volleyball looks to keep hold of section title
One of the goals of the Thomas Jefferson girls volleyball team is to win the section championship.
After all, the Jaguars have captured five section titles in a row, and seven in the past eight seasons.
The TJ netters ended the first half of section play well on their way to accomplishing their objective.
Thomas Jefferson edged rival Elizabeth Forward, 3-2, last week in front of a large and noisy crowd in what was one of the most thrilling section matches in recent memory at TJ.
“It was a great game all around; the intensity and level of play was through the roof,” said TJ's Morgan Yurkovich, a senior setter. “We knew what had to be done, and I think we did a good job bringing it together to get the win.”
Yurkovich and senior outside hitter Makayla Falk form a dynamic one-two punch at the net for the Jaguars. Falk, like Yurkovich a third-year starter, was thankful her team was able to rally past EF.
“I think that definitely wasn't our best play,” Falk said, “but thankfully we were able to pull out the win in the end.”
TJ rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win the fourth and fifth games, finally clinching the decision with a nerve-racking 17-15 victory in Game 5.
The Jaguars wrapped up the first half of the season with an undefeated record in Section 3-AAA.
“So far, the team has played some really good volleyball,” TJ coach Ron Kelly said. “That being said, we also have been a little inconsistent. Our team has been successful because of our serving and serve-receive. We have taken some really good teams out of their system with strong serving.
“Also defensively, we have frustrated some teams because they are having a hard time getting points off of their offense.”
The Jaguars have been sparked by an energetic and athletic lineup, consisting of seniors Sarah Fullard (middle hitter), Savannah Vernet (right-side hitter), Yurkovich and Falk; juniors Sydney Moran (libero), Julia Micklo (defensive specialist) and Julia Fiedor (setter); plus sophomores Tyler Turk (middle hitter), Tanner Patrick (outside hitter) and Natasha Yanief (outside hitter).
Top reserves include senior Nicole Saltzman (defensive specialist) and sophomore Abby Chalovich (setter); as well as seniors Megan Birch (OH), Hailey Trainor (OH) and Mimi Werderber (DS); and juniors Mia Como (DS), Jaqueline Rush (RS), Haleigh Karcher (OH) and Alanna Lynch (MH).
Yurkovich, who has made a verbal commitment to Pitt-Johnstown, and Falk were all-section selections last year. Yurkovich is a four-year letter winner, and was an All-WPIAL and all-state selection last season.
“Makayla and I have a great relationship on and off the court,” Yurkovich said. “She constantly is giving off positivity and working her hardest. I have complete trust in her that she will always perform her best. She's one of the only people that I can always count on to be there and keep me calm on the court.”
TJ's starting rotation consists of four seniors, three juniors and three sophomores. Fullard, Vernet, Moran and Micklo also were starters in 2016, when the Jaguars finished undefeated in section play.
“We are a young team, and I think we will keep getting better,” Kelly said. “Morgan setting and Makayla hitting has been the catalyst for our offense. I think other players will step up as their confidence grows. If that happens, with our serving and defense we should be very successful in the (season's) second half.”
For Yurkovich, it is a step-by-step process.
“We are working hard to keep our reigning section champs title,” she said. “Then, we will move onto claiming the WPIAL title — one practice at a time; one game at a time.”
Falk adamantly agreed.
“I expect us to fight hard and to never give up,” she said. “I believe this is our year to win WPIALs.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.