During a match against Damascus High School earlier this year, Sarah Kenneweg hit the floor to save a Madison Wyatt kill attempt. Later, the Poolesville senior stuck an arm out to turn an Annika Schwartz spike into a deftly placed pass for teammate and setter Allyson Convers to divvy out to her own hitters.
Kenneweg is everywhere — her libero-distinguished jersey allows her to be — thinking ahead of hitters, getting to spots that looked open just seconds ago are now taken up by a diving, sliding or perfectly-positioned Kenneweg, frustrating the county’s best and most powerful hitters over and over again.
“That is the worst feeling,” Schwartz said. “That’s a feeling I always feel when we play Poolesville. I’ve played club with her and she’s always there and I hate her for it. That’s the feeling and she obviously loves it and it’s so frustrating.”
There isn’t much glory about being a libero, aside from the intrinsic satisfaction of trumping an outside hitters’ best shot. Being a hitter is glamorous, crowd-pleasing and fun. Being a libero is arduous and stressful, a test of any forearm’s durability to withstand hit after hit. Naturally, the position wasn’t Kenneweg’s first choice — it was her only one.
She’s small enough where, when asked for her height, she argued for quarters of an inch — “I’m like 5-[foot]-and a half, maybe 5-and-three quarters, 5-foot-1 with shoes on!” she said. This, along with a tremendous knack for passing a volleyball, adds up to one perfectly packaged libero.
“I was kind of put into this position because of my height,” she said. “I didn’t really have a choice.”
Had she been presented an option, there’s no telling what position she would have chosen. But she’s made the most out of what she’s been given. She may be the one libero in the county who has found a way to catch the eye of every single coach who has played Poolesville this season, more-so than the vast majority of the hitters.
Col. Zadok Magruder coach Scott Zanni said in an email: “There shouldn’t be any debate — she is the best libero in the county. Only libero who is going to play D1 vball next year (Seton Hall) and is far and away the best skilled of all the liberos.”
Damascus coach Becky Ronquillo: “Not sure of stats — but one heck of a player! So fast in defense and will pick up everything and has a fantastic attitude on and off the court.”
It’s no accident Kenneweg has garnered such rave reviews from around the county. Her big sister, Megan, who is now an assistant coach, was slotted at hitter for Poolesville, but Sarah has forever been a defensive specialist. Falcons coach Fran DuVall first saw the future Seton Hall University recruit when Sarah was just eight years old, small for her age even then, and the bright-eyed girl approached the coach with a request: “‘Hey coach Fran, show me what to do with a volleyball,’” she said.
From then on, DuVall recalled, “every time she came up to me, she had always asked me for something to do and the amazing thing was, every time I’d see her, she was doing the thing I showed her last time I saw her.”
When Kenneweg didn’t have a partner to pepper with, she always had a wall that would return it every time. And then something happened: she fell in love with passing a volleyball, not hitting it as many youths would. It didn’t take long for her to be a digging machine. But the best part for DuVall is that Kenneweg doesn’t just get a hand on a hit, she deadens it into an easily settable pass for Convers, who can turn around and set up Rosie Barry or Emily Agate for a hit of their own.
“For whatever reason, we’ve never really had size at Poolesville,” DuVall said. “So ball control is huge, it’s absolutely huge. And she frustrates hitters. When you’re used to getting the ball down — when she’s back there, you’re not going to get one swing and be done. I just think she frustrates people. She covers a lot of the court.”
Now in her senior season, Kenneweg is the core to an undefeated Poolesville team, one which has dropped a set only to Damascus, a group that recently snapped Sherwood’s 68-match winning streak. As far as their record goes, there’s no improving that. But there’s still one demon remaining that Kenneweg is determined to exorcise before she graduates: matching her sister with a state title of her own.
The Falcons last won in 2008 and reached the semifinals when Kenneweg was a freshman, but that’s the closest they’ve been in the libero’s four-year starting career.
“[Megan] would always tease me about not winning my freshman year because I’ve made it to semis,” she said. “But it would be awesome, for both of us to have won a state title.”