Alle-Kiski volleyball teams looking for playoff push

Knoch's Savanna Steffen (right), Katie Bozzo and Celina Sanks (far left) watch a shot go past Freeport's Ashley Sample during a September 2012 match at Knoch High School.
Knoch's Savanna Steffen (right), Katie Bozzo and Celina Sanks (far left) watch a shot go past Freeport's Ashley Sample during a September 2012 match at Knoch High School.
| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 12:09 a.m.

Fox Chapel girls volleyball coach Sara D'Angelo's philosophy is simple: If you're going to win, you're going to do so with good old-fashioned hard work.

That approach paid off last year as the Foxes won 17 straight on the way to a spot in the WPIAL Class AAA championship match, where they fell, 3-1, against Mt. Lebanon.

Experience and depth fueled that team, but this year could be different; Fox Chapel returns only three starters. The team lost five key seniors to graduation.

“We are looking at this year as two totally different teams, and I keep reminding them of that because of the success last year,” said D'Angelo, who is in her fourth season. “We are going to have to work harder than anybody else to have a chance to win. We don't have the size or the experience as other teams.”

Senior outside hitters Megan Hollingsworth and Michaela Papsko will join senior libero Betsy Slagley as returning starters.

Meanwhile, Knoch is coming off a third-place finish in Section 4-AA but is poised to improve. The Knights enter the season with a senior class of 10, led by outside hitter Celina Sanks, who has committed to play at Division I Eastern Kentucky.

“She led us in every category last year,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “She is probably the best all-around player I've coached, and I'm starting my 27th year. She's very coachable and competitive.”

Joining Sanks as key contributors in a senior class that has played together since seventh grade are setter Kaley Fitzpatrick, outside hitter Schaely Renfrew, right-side hitter Savanna Steffen, libero Taylor Tabacchi and middle hitter Mary Zellhart.

With all of that experience, the bar has been raised, and Knoch could be in position to chase a section title and a deep playoff run.

“When you have a group that has 10 girls that have played together for that many years and some girls who played club,” Geist said, “they know each other better on the court and know what to expect from each other, and hopefully they have a common goal.”

Last season saw Freeport finish 17-2 and with a share of the Section 4-AA title with Mars. The Yellowjackets fell to Ambridge in the quarterfinals.

The Yellowjackets return key contributors in sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak, senior outside hitter Megan Sweeney, senior outside hitter Alexis Schrecengost, senior outside hitter Britney Bianco, who will be playing libero for the first time, and senior setter Emily Toy. Versatility will be a team strength for coach Tom Phillips.

“It's a good problem to have,” said Phillips, who is entering his 13th season as coach. “I think my girls' goals are a lot like mine. Obviously, we want to do well in a very competitive section. We would like to go deep into the playoffs and maintain a good solid playoff run.”

D.J. Vasil is a freelance writer.

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