Thomas Jefferson volleyball captures 6th straight section title
The Thomas Jefferson girls volleyball program is well-versed on the subject of section championships.
The Jaguars rolled to their sixth consecutive section championship in 2017, which was their eighth title in the past nine seasons.
TJ took first place in Section 3-AAA with an undefeated 12-0 record, followed by Elizabeth Forward (9-3), Laurel Highlands (9-3), Yough (5-7), Uniontown (4-8), Albert Gallatin (3-9) and Belle Vernon (0-12).
“I was very pleased with the girls' effort all year, from practice to games and tournaments,” coach Ron Kelly said. “We are somewhat a young team, and that meant we had to mesh throughout the year. That is what we did. We improved daily, and the players have a great rapport with each other. Honestly, this team really gets along, which helps them as a team.”
Thomas Jefferson has compiled a 62-2 record in section play over the past five seasons, and has finished undefeated in its section four times.
TJ's starting rotation this season consists of four seniors, three juniors and three sophomores.
The Jaguars have been sparked by seniors Sarah Fullard (middle hitter), Savannah Vernet (right-side hitter), Morgan Yurkovich (setter) and Makayla Falk (outside hitter); 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).
Yurkovich and Falk form a dynamic one-two punch at the net for the Jaguars. Falk, like Yurkovich, is a third-year starter.
“We are a good serving and serve-receive team,” Kelly said. “That has been our strength all season. This has led to our offense getting better and better.
“Defensively, we cover the floor well, and our blockers are starting to get the job done.”
The team's 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).
Thomas Jefferson ended the first half of section play with a thrilling 3-2 win at home against rival Elizabeth Forward, then sailed through the second half of the regular season.
“I really think the South Fayette tournament started the boost in confidence,” Kelly said. “We played some really good volleyball against some strong teams, but then we had one bad game, and I think that is when the girls started to realize you cannot just walk onto the court and win with past performances. After that, we played Elizabeth Forward and South Fayette in matches, and we did a great job.”
The WPIAL playoffs commenced this week.
TJ received the No. 4 seed in Class AAA and plays a first-round match Wednesday against No. 13 West Mifflin.
The TJ-WM winner will advance to the quarterfinal round Oct. 31 and will play either South Fayette or Laurel Highlands.
“I am excited to see where this team ends up,” Kelly said. “If they are prepared and ready for every playoff match, they can go very far.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.