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Knoch's Celina Sanks to play volleyball at Eastern Kentucky

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 1:31 a.m.

Sought by college volleyball programs to an extent she never expected, Knoch junior Celina Sanks endured stretches of considerable stress during her recruiting process.

At last, all is settled in Sanks' mind.

The 5-foot-10 outside hitter verbally accepted a scholarship offer to play volleyball at Division I Eastern Kentucky Wednesday. An All-WPIAL Class AA and all-state selection, she visited the university in Richmond, Ky., for a second time Tuesday and grew certain of her choice.

“The girls were so welcoming,” Sanks said. “They were like family. It's a very family-oriented team. Some teams, you can tell who the sophomores and freshmen are. But with them, I couldn't tell.”

Sanks formally visited Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Toledo and Lafayette. Earlier in the process, she took unofficial trips to Georgetown and Division III Franklin & Marshall.

While her height compared favorably to most of her high school opponents, Sanks will enter the Division I level as an undersized outside hitter.

“In normal situations, I am tall, but in the volleyball world, I'm average sized,” Sanks said. “So I really need to be able to focus on my jumping and either be able to jump and hit over the block or use the block.”

Sanks' “touch” height — a measurement used by colleges to assess players' jumping ability and vertical reach — is 9 feet, 10 inches.

“She definitely has Division-I talent, but she doesn't have that height you'd need for a Penn State,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “She has the all-around abilities — in the front row, the back row. And she loves the game.”

Sanks' love bloomed during the last few years. As a seventh grader, she considered basketball her passion and questioned whether she even wanted to start playing volleyball.

“I think just at first I was reluctant to go to tryouts, but my mom pushed me and just said Coach Geist was a really good coach,” Sanks said.

She attended and embraced the sport. The summer after she completed eighth grade, she heightened her commitment by joining Pittsburgh Elite, a Junior Olympic club.

Sanks made a major sacrifice at the start of this school year when she decided to forgo basketball and focus strictly on her other court sport. The opportunities that emerged justified the decision in her mind.

“I still love the game,” Sanks said of basketball, “but volleyball, I've kind of put it in the front row.”

Sanks, who thanked her family, friends and coaches for the support provided over the past several months, said she never dealt with pressure from her parents to choose a certain destination — they might've objected to a California school, but they considered Eastern Kentucky's seven-hour drive agreeable, she said.

“They never thought I'd have this opportunity, so just having it was a blessing in itself,” Sanks said. “They really didn't push me anywhere. Their biggest thing was just for me to be happy.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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