Knoch’s 48-match winning streak ends with PIAA loss to Warren
With one game separating it from a return trip to the state finals, Knoch girls volleyball ran into a Warren team Tuesday night that was determined to continue its historic run.
The Dragons put an end to Knoch’s reign as state champions and its 48-match winning streak.
Warren, the District 10 champion, clinched its first state finals berth with a 3-1 victory over Knoch in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals at Clarion.
The Dragons (21-0) advanced to play District 3’s West York in the championship 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley. Knoch finished 24-1 and dropped its first match since Nov. 12, 2016, a 3-1 loss to West Allegheny in the PIAA quarterfinals.
“After graduating six seniors from last year, I wasn’t expecting to get this far, and I owe that all to the girls,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “They just kept winning and winning and, tonight, we finally met our match with Warren.
“We’re a family, and sometimes this happens when you’re in a family. There are ups and downs, but to get this far, I’m pretty proud of what they did.”
The Dragons won 25-19, 25-22, 19-25, 25-22.
Warren finished the match by leading the entire way in the fourth set. Knoch got within two points at 20-18, but kills and blocks from Ellie Lobdell and Lydia Latimer sealed it.
“We knew how good Knoch was obviously, but the girls believed that they could play with them,” Warren coach Mike Dolan said. “It’s kind of the way they’ve been all year. They’re confident in their belief that they can play at a high level.”
After Knoch trailed the entire way in the first set, it got going in the second. A pair of kills by Hannah Rowe and two hitting errors gave the Knights a 20-15 lead, but Warren fought back. Two kills from Jordan Sitler and an ace by Celia Chase sparked a 6-0 run that gave the Dragons a 21-20 lead. Kennedy Christy got a kill from the middle that tied the score 22-22, but Warren got points on three consecutive errors to complete the comeback and take a 2-0 lead.
“Watching Warren’s (District 10) championship game against Conneaut, I saw that they were down several times and came back,” Geist said. “That’s something that we’ve been able to do, but tonight we ran up against someone else that did it a little better than us tonight.”
Latimer, a 5-foot-10 Cleveland State recruit, had a big second set with five kills and two aces to keep Warren within striking distance.
She finished the match with 15 kills and five blocks, and senior opposite hitter Lobdell had 16 kills.
“Having a stud player like (Latimer) can make a difference in a tight game,” Dolan said. “She can do everything. She serves, she can play defense and at times she can just dominate at the net, and that’s what she did tonight.”
Knoch kept its hopes alive by leading most of the way and finishing off a third-set win. Christy had six kills in the third, and Rowe had five. Christy finished with 13 kills, Rowe 12. Skye Burkett had five kills and four aces.
The Knights won a second consecutive WPIAL title this season and return top hitters Rowe, Christy and Burkett.
Kerrie Fitzpatrick is the lone senior. Fitzpatrick ran the Knights offense the last two seasons as the team’s setter.
“She’s the last of the Fitzpatrick sisters to play here,” Geist said. “We’re going to miss them because they’re an awesome family. With Kerrie graduating we’re not losing just her, but we’re losing the whole family.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.