By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – In the first three years of her high school volleyball career Abby Knoop had mostly a supporting role.
A four-year starter with more than 650 kills to her credit Knoop has been an important part of the most successful run in West Branch volleyball history.
Yet, Knoop made those contributions the last three seasons outside of the spotlight.
As a senior this fall Knoop has stepped onto center stage and shined in her new role.
“It’s a different role I have to play, last year there was no pressure on me,” Knoop said. “I had no pressure to put the ball away because I knew other people on the court could do that. There are those players this year too but definitely I had to step up this year and I had to become a leader on the court.”
Knoop was a potent attacker each of the past two reasons, rolling up a combined 390 kills.
Both seasons she was surrounded by stars as West Branch went 70-12 during those two seasons and made consecutive trips to the state tournament
In 2014 Knoop had 129 kills while playing alongside all-state hitter Maddy Russell.
Last year Knoop was second on the team with 261 kills, behind only senior all-state middle Haley Poula.
This season it was Knoop who became that go-to player on a team full of first-year starters and she hasn’t disappointed in her first season in the spotlight.
“She did some great things last year we just had girls on that team that are playing in college this year so we had a really talented team,” first-year West Branch coach John Walsh said. “She maybe didn’t stand out as much but she has certainly stepped in this year and shown what she can do.”
Knoop is on pace for the best season of her career.
The 5-foot-10 senior has a team-high 210 kills, averaging 4.12 kills per set while helping West Branch to a 13-6 record.
“It’s definitely been different, this year we’ve had to earn our points different ways, we can’t just send the ball to Haley Poula,” Knoop said. “We’ve definitely started clicking. We’ve been working together, we’ve been practicing so hard and we are meshing well together.”
Knoop wasn’t the only player settling into a new role at West Branch this season.
With seven new players seeing significant court time it took the Bears some time to settle in.
West Branch has shown over the past two weeks it is primed for another postseason run.
The Bears have won seven straight matches since a four-set loss to West Liberty on Sept. 13, a stretch that includes back-to-back River Valley Conference wins over Mid-Prairie and Durant.
“This past week has been amazing, after that loss at West Liberty we turned a corner,” Knoop said. “We’ve changed our offense, we started running quicker stuff. We’ve definitely stepped up and I’m very proud of our team.”
Knoop has been a big part of the recent success.
She had 44 kills to help West Branch go 5-0 and win the title at the Lisbon Tournament.
Last week Knoop was at her best pounding 28 kills in a five-set win over Mid-Prairie and following with 17 kills in a road sweep of Durant.
“We don’t make a big deal of it or anything but we know that if we get her a good set she is going to put the ball away a lot of the time,’ Walsh said. “It’s nice to have a senior leader like that to score some points for us.”