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Trib Cup: Knoch girls volleyball sustains success

| Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Knoch girls volleyball coach Diane Geist was cautiously optimistic entering this season.

Yes, her team had advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons, establishing itself as a Class AA power. But with the PIAA realigning to four classifications in 2016, there were plenty of unknowns as the Knights moved up to Class AAA.

But Geist's team met the challenge, earning a share of the Section 4-AAA title with an 11-1 record against a schedule largely composed of teams Knoch was unfamiliar with.

“When they went to the four classifications I was pretty nervous about starting this year, but we were able to come out and the first half of the season we were able to beat everybody,” Geist said. “Not knowing some of these teams … you don't know what to expect.

“I remember one of our players in August saying, ‘we want to win the section.' … But you just don't know if that's going to be a realistic goal at that point in August before you play anybody,” she added. “So being able to do that, even though we split, we were co-champions, that was really a great feeling.”

Despite seeing its WPIAL title hopes end on Thursday with a loss to Hampton in the semifinals, Knoch is highlighted as this week's Tribune-Review High School Sports Award feature team, leading to the Knights' 11th-place standing in the Class 3A rankings.

With a deep lineup, Knoch has carried 20 players on its playoff roster, including a group of five strong outside and middle hitters.

Junior middle hitter Sarah Armahizer leads the team in kills, while fellow juniors Abby Pospisil (MH) and outside hitters Bethany Nulph, Katelyn Schwab and Abby Kopac have combined to pace the Knights' offensive output.

Defensively, Knoch is led by junior Carly Bozzo and defensive specialists Abby Kerkan and Celia Knappenberger. The team-leader in digs, not only does Bozzo help defensively, but her knowledge of the game even offers support to the offense.

“(She brings) strong passing, consistent serving; she's a smart player so she can tell the hitters where to hit because she can see the block, good defense,” Geist said.

“No one is perfect, so when the ball doesn't go where you want it to, it can sometimes become frustrating,” Bozzo said. “But I try to encourage myself and the other defenders that no one is perfect, and it's OK to make mistakes. I tell myself and them sometimes that all that matters is the next ball.”

The Knights' playoff run began last Thursday with a 3-0 win over Laurel Highlands. Geist, now in her 31st season coaching Knoch, thanked the supportive home crowd for helping her team to victory against an unfamiliar opponent.

“Laurel Highlands, we didn't know anything about them, so we came out, we had a nice home crowd and we had a great student section cheering us on,” she said. “It was a lot of fun, we were able to win in three.”

Facing Chartiers Valley on Monday in the quarterfinals, Knoch lost the match's first game before rallying for three consecutive wins, including a 26-24 triumph in the fourth set. Armahizer contributed with 12 kills and three blocks in the win.

“Chartiers Valley, we knew they had some good outside hitters so that's what we tried to prepare for,” Geist said. “We lost the first game, but kind of stayed with it and regrouped and were able to finish them off game four.”

For Bozzo, Knoch's postseason run is the perfect culmination to a strong regular season, a year where the team has been striving for playoff success, even in its new conference.

“The team has been able to go on such a successful playoff run because we have worked all season for the playoffs,” Bozzo said. “Coach Geist and coach Jen (Voltz) have been reminding us that. They also have been telling us that we need to work hard and play with our all because nothing is given. That has been a constant reminder since the playoffs started, and that is why I think we have been so successful.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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