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Knoch's PIAA curse continues in loss to Conneaut Area

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 10:48 p.m.

Knoch's girls volleyball team will have to wait a while longer for its first PIAA playoff win.

In a match between two Class AA teams in search of a state tournament win, the Knights fell to District 10 champion Conneaut Area, 3-0, on Tuesday at Cochranton High School.

Conneaut Area (18-1), a product of the 2012 merger between Linesville, Conneaut Valley and Conneaut Lake high schools, powered its way past WPIAL third-place finisher Knoch (16-4) with the one-two outside hitter combo of seniors Challen Litwiler, a 2012 all-state selection, and Kristen Baker.

“I watched some video that was online, and that's pretty much what I expected,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said of Conneaut Area's hitters. “I think their second hitter (Baker), she started to really come on and was really strong, so I think in that respect they were a little stronger hitting than what we've seen.”

Knoch, in the state postseason for the first time since 2003, has lost to the District 10 champion in all three of its PIAA playoff appearances. Conneaut Area advanced to the quarterfinals, where it will play WPIAL runner-up Indiana on Saturday.

“Our players, they're special kids, and they've worked really hard through the consolidation process,” said Conneaut Area coach Tim Schleicher, who led Linesville to a PIAA Class A title in 2011. “The seniors, they were opponents their freshman and sophomore year. But they've really embraced this.”

Litwiler, who finished with 16 kills, scored five of Conneaut Area's final six points in Game 1, a 25-23 win for the Eagles. Allison Snider buried the game-winning kill.

Knoch used a timeout after Conneaut Area made the score 20-19 in Game 1 and another after the Eagles scored two straight to tie Game 1 at 22. The Knights went ahead 23-22 after the second timeout, but Conneaut Area claimed the next three points.

Geist continued to use timeouts as a way to regroup in Games 2 and 3, 25-12 and 25-22 losses. But Knoch lacked the sharp passing and blocking necessary to counter Conneaut Area's blasts.

“At the end of that game, we all had no regrets, but we all agree we could've come out victorious,” senior libero Taylor Tabacchi said.

The second game, which Conneaut Area led the entire way, ended with a kill by Litwiler.

Knoch used its second timeout in Game 3 to regroup after a five-point run by Conneaut Area, and the tactic briefly paid off. The Knights scored four in a row to cut its deficit to 21-20. But a serve violation ended Knoch's rally, and two kills by Litwiler and a wide shot by the Knights ended the match.

Knoch senior middle hitter Celina Sanks again showed why she's an Eastern Kentucky-bound Division I recruit. She finished with 13 kills.

“This whole entire ride has been a blessing in itself,” Sanks said. “We weren't supposed to make it this far, so making it this far is a big deal in itself. I definitely feel we could've won this, but we've all played to the best we could.”

Senior middle hitter Mary Zellhart added six kills and two blocks.

“We knew their strength was the middles, and they lived up to that for sure,” Schleicher said. “We knew if they were in system, they'd try to go to their middles, especially Celina, because she's a fantastic player. So we had to work hard on just keeping the ball off the floor. We didn't have to be perfect. I thought we did it more times than not.”

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

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