The numbers 13 and 27 are significant for the Knoch High School girls volleyball program.
Coach Diane Geist is in her 27th year at the helm and the Knights have a streak of 13 consecutive WPIAL Class AA playoff appearances.
"Our goal every year is to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, challenge for the section title, and hopefully go far in the playoffs," said Geist, who is one of four girls coaches in the WPIAL with more than 20 years of head coaching experience.
With those goals in mind, along with Knoch's fine start in the 2013 season, it's safe to predict the Knights will be making a return trip to the WPIAL playoffs.
"Last year, it came down to Mars, Freeport and Knoch for the section title," Geist said. "I'm expecting the same three teams to battle for the title again this year."
And that's just how it played out during the first two weeks of play in Class AA Section 4. Freeport leads the section standings with 4-0 record, while Mars Area and Knoch are close behind at 3-1. The Knights only setback was a 3-0 loss to Freeport.
"We're in the only section with three teams in the WPIAL [Class AA] rankings," Geist said. "I don't think it's a stretch to say that we're in the strongest of the Class AA sections."
Freeport, a WPIAL finalist three of the past four years, is ranked No. 1, while Knoch is No. 8.
"Freeport deserves to be the No. 1 team," said Geist, who is looking forward to the rematch with the Yellowjackets on Oct. 3. "We will have to play much better to beat them in the second half."
Mars, last year's WPIAL champion, is ranked 10th.
"I haven't seen Mars yet," said Geist, who pointed out that all but one starter for Mars graduated and the Planets have a new coach. "It will be a few weeks before we see them.
"We were supposed to play at Mars Sept. 24, but the match was moved to Oct. 7 because of a job fair at their high school. That means we play them twice in 10 days."
Knoch had a section bye Tuesday night, but did have a significant match scheduled for Monday as the Knights dropped a 3-1 decision to No. 2-ranked Indiana in a non-league match. Geist's squad returns to section play tonight with a home match against Deer Lakes.
Knoch has also done well in tournament play. The Knights opened the season with a title at the 16-team Slippery Rock tournament on Labor Day weekend, then advanced to the gold bracket at the Shaler tournament the following weekend.
"It was nice to finally win the Slippery Rock tournament after placing second the past three years," Geist said. "And I was very pleased with our performance at the Shaler tournament, which had a stronger field."
Geist uses a nine-player rotation, which includes seven players who started last season, two of whom were All-WPIAL Class AA selections. Celina Sanks, a 5-foot-10 senior outside/middle hitter and Eastern Kentucky recruit, was voted first-team All-WPIAL and also recognized on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State Team.
"Celina is one of the top three players in the WPIAL in Class AA," Geist said. "She's a four-year starter who can play any position, except for setter. We move her around depending on who we are facing."
Mary Zellhart, a 5-9 senior, is a two-year starter in the middle. Zellhart was voted third-team All-WPIAL last season.
"Mary has been dealing with some shoulder issues," Geist said. "But she's improved significantly since last season."
The other returning starters are 5-8 senior setter Kaley Fitzpatrick, 5-6 junior setter/outside hitter Katie Bozzo, 5-7 senior outside hitter Schaely Renfrew, 5-11 senior opposite Savanna Steffen and 5-4 senior libero Taylor Tabacchi.
"We have an odd setting combination," Geist said. "Kaley sets two positions out of the front row, while Katie sets during the other four positions. It's worked very well for us."
Two newcomers to the starting rotation are 5-8 senior middle hitter Kiley Hajeck and 5-7 junior setter/outside hitter Lexie Graham.