Warren’s magical run reaches state title game with win over defending champion Knoch

Times Observer photo by Andy Close Warren celebrates a point during the fourth and deciding set of the PIAA Class 3A semifinals against Knoch on Tuesday at Clarion High School. The Lady Dragons will compete for the second team state championship in the school’s history on Saturday after a 3-1 win over the defending state champions.

CLARION, Pa. – Prior to the start of the season, the Warren volleyball team chose the phrase, “Be legendary” as a simple theme for its warmup shirts.

It succinctly encapsulated what the Dragons wanted to do this season, primarily becoming the first team in program history to win a District 10 title. They accomplished that feat and now stand just one win away from putting themselves in the most rarified company Warren County has to offer.

With a 3-1 (25-19, 25-22, 19-25 and 25-22) win over defending PIAA Class 3A champion Knoch at Clarion High School Tuesday, the Dragons punched their ticket to the state championship match.

They join the 2000 Warren softball and 2015 Eisenhower baseball teams as the only Warren County programs to reach the state title game. A win would give them the county’s first team state championship since the 1966 Warren cross country team.

“We have this confidence,” Warren coach Mike Dolan said. “We’re just playing volleyball.”

To get there, the Dragons (21-0) had to knock off the defending champion Knights (23-1), who came into the match with a 48-game winning streak. After getting off to slow starts in their first two state tournament matches, the Dragons went right to work against the Knights.

Warren’s Lydia Latimer and Knoch’s Skylar Burkett traded kills in the early going. The low ceiling then came into play, affecting both teams as they played to a 3-3 tie in the first. A Celia Chase kill put Warren up 5-3 but kills from Burkett and Hannah Rowe brought Knoch back to a 6-6 tie.

“We talked about the low ceiling,” Dolan said. “We were ready for it, and Lex (Nyquist) is just so good at making adjustments. We have a never quit attitude.”

The Dragons answered with a 4-0 run. An Ellie Lobdell kill put Warren up 8-6 and a Jordan Sitler block made it 10-6. A pair of unforced errors from Warren brought Knoch to within two at 10-8, but Sitler put down a kill to regain momentum. Another Lodbell kill and block by Grace Wortman forced the Knights to take a timeout with the Dragons leading 15-9.

The break didn’t slow the Dragons. A pair of Knoch errors pushed the Warren advantage to 17-10. Kennedy Christy put down a kill, then served an ace to make it 17-12. Latimer blocked an attack to force a second Knights timeout. Warren got the first point out of the timeout, but Rowe put down a kill, Burkett served an ace and a ball off the ceiling closed the gap to 20-16. Lobdell put down another kill to regain the Dragons momentum and Chase served an ace to get to set point at 24-17. Knoch took the next two points, but Wortman hammered home a kill to give Warren the 25-19 win in set 1.

Not planning to go away quietly, Knoch jumped out to a 3-0 lead to start the second. Lobdell and Latimer put down consecutive kills to make it 3-2. The teams again played to a 6-6 tie and after a Knoch kill, questions arose about the accuracy of the score. After a lengthy conversation, the score was changed to give the Knights an 8-6 advantage. Warren got close to Knoch several times, but the Knights kept the Dragons from going on any sustained runs and built a 17-12 lead. Warren battled to get within three at 18-5, but Knoch took the next two points to go up 2015.

“We knew (Rowe) and (Christy) were going to put pressure on us,” Dolan said. “But we couldn’t let it get us down. We had to keep putting our blocks up.”

The Dragons answered with a 5-0 run to tie the set. Knoch took a timeout following Sitler’s kill that made it 20-18. Lobdell put an end to a lengthy volley, that featured big saves by both teams, to knot things at 20 apiece. Chase served an ace to give Warren its first lead of the set at 21-20.

Knoch had a pair of big-time saves on the next point to tie it at 21, but Lobdell was there again to retake the lead. Warren thought it had grabbed a 23-21 lead, but the point was overturned and Knoch got a Burkett kill on the replay to tie it at 22. The Dragons came right back to take the next two points to get to set point at 24-22. Latimer and Wortman combined to block Christy for the win and a 2-0 match lead.

The teams played to a 7-7 tie to start the third but kills from Burkett and Christy and an ace from Rowe punctuated a 4-0 Knights run and forced a Dragons timeout with Knoch leading 11-7. As for most of the second, the Knights didn’t allow the Dragons to go on any sustained runs and methodically built a 20-14 advantage. Wortman and Lobdell helped get Warren back to within four at 22-18, but Knoch put the set away with a 25-19 win.

“We put ourselves in a hole right away,” Knoch coach Diane Geist said. “It’s hard to fight back. They have a lot of weapons.”

Warren answered with a fury to start the fourth. A Latimer ace forced the Knights to take a timeout with the Dragons ahead 7-2. Rowe came out of the break with a kill and Burkett followed with an ace to cut the deficit to 7-4. Chase answered with a kill to slow Knoch’s momentum. And so it went. The Knights would grab a point or two, but the Dragons took turns coming up with big points to stop the run. First Lobdell, then Sitler, then Lobdell again, then Latimer back-to-back as Warren built a 17-11 lead. Christy hit a kill and served an ace to make it 17-13, but Chase answered with a kill of her own. Rowe put down a kill to make it 18-14.

On the next point, it looked like Warren had the point, but Lex Nyquist was called for a questionable net violation on the point, and the Knights were within three at 18-15. A ball off the ceiling on the next point foiled the Dragons and prompted Dolan to take a timeout to settle his team.

More back-and-forth action led to Knoch pulling to 19-18. But as she had done all match, Lobdell answered the bell with a kill and Wortman followed with another to stretch the advantage to 21-18. An unforced error got it to 21-19, but there was Lobdell coming up with another kill to put Warren up 22-19. A Knoch error gave Warren a 23-19 lead. Knoch took the next two points, but Wortman got a big block to give the Dragons match point at 24-21. Knoch took the next point.

Warren received the next serve cleanly and sent the ball to Nyquist. As she has done often this season when the Dragons needed a big point, Nyquist set the ball to Latimer for the emphatic finish. One of the Knights was able to get a hand on the ball, but it skittered out of play and the Warren celebration was on.

Christy led the Knights with 13 kills. Rowe added 11 kills and three blocks while Burkett had eight service points, including four aces, and five kills and Kerrie Fitzpatrick had 20 assists and nine service points.

“Our blocking was a killer against Warren,” Geist said. “They’re a good offensive team and hard to block.”

Lobdell paced the Dragons with 16 kills, two blocks, four assists, and 21 digs.

“We talked yesterday about just staying confident,” Dolan said of Lobdell’s performance. “I told her to just keep swinging. She blasted through their blocks tonight. We always knew she had that attack.”

Latimer had 15 kills, five blocks, four aces, and 16 digs, Chase added nine kills, 18 digs, and five aces. Sitler and Wortman each had five kills and two blocks, Julia Lobdell had 12 digs and Nyquist finished with 16 digs and 44 assists.

The atmosphere inside Clarion High School was amped before the match even started, and most of those in attendance were cheering on the Dragons.

“It feels like the entire town was here,” Latimer said. “There were so many people and they were so loud.”

Warren now turns its attention to the state championship, where West York (a 5-set winner over Allentown Central Catholic Tuesday) awaits. The match pits the D-10 champs against the District 3 champs and will take place at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Dragons don’t plan to change anything in a formula that has put them on the verge of becoming even more legendary.

“We’re just going to be us,” senior Trinity Wennberg said. “We know how to play and we’re just going to play our game.”


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