CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — They practiced on their own before the season started and segregated themselves from the rest of their classmates once the 2020 high school volleyball campaign began.
Eventually they stayed at home, trading classrooms for a kitchens, desks for dining room tables.
The members of the Clarion High School volleyball team didn’t want anything to derail their dream season in 2020. They didn’t want COVID to be the one opponent that could actually beat them.
“We just made sure we were extra safe,” said senior libero Jordan Best. “When we were at school, we’d sit extra socially distanced. It was definitely a sacrifice we all had to make, but it was well worth it.”
It was difficult living on the edge like the Bobcats did last season. Coming into the year, they all knew they had the makings of something special with talent galore on the floor and a singular focus to achieve the ultimate prize: a PIAA Class A championship.
From the start, though, they didn’t know if there would be a crown to chase. The COVID-19 pandemic was raging and the PIAA was pondering canceling the fall sports season.
Instead of sulking, the members of the team got to work.
They rented out Joe’s Gym in town and conducted their own practices, running their own drills in the hopes the season would be played.
When the green light was finally given, they were more than ready and had already meshed.
“We worked super hard without our coaches because, technically, we couldn’t practice with our coaches,” said junior Aryana Girvan. “That helped us a lot. I’m so proud of us.”
Clarion was never threatened all season. The Bobcats went 24-0 (one of the wins was by forfeit) and lost just one set all season — 26-24 to Maplewood. They tore through the District 9 and PIAA playoffs, culminating the carnage with a 25-16, 25-14, 25-15 victory over Marion Catholic in the state title game.
It was almost too easy. Almost. The team played under and endured constant uncertainty.
Is today going to be the end?
They used that to their benefit, however.
“We went into the season and treated it like we had nothing to lose — tomorrow we might not play because of COVID,” said senior Korrin Burns. “We were like, ‘Let’s do this thing! Let’s do it!”
Burns sat on 999 career kills after the District 9 championship game — another 3-0 walloping, this one over Elk County Catholic. Not knowing if there would be a state playoff — because, after all, nothing was a guarantee in 2020 — she and her team were careful not to get ahead of themselves.
“We had a ball made that said, ‘1,000 kills, 202 with the final number missing,’ Burns said. “We were going to save it for next year and put the one at the end of it if we didn’t have another game and I had to wait until next year.”
They did have a next game and the zero was quickly scrawled on the ball to complete the memento.
Soon after, Clarion was celebrating with another memento: a state championship trophy.
“I’m super proud of the way they did it,” said Clarion volleyball coach Shari Campbell, who has been coaching the team since 1999. “I mean, the fortitude it took and the focus it took during COVID. They were so dedicated to the goal.”
“I feel like we willed it into being,” Campbell added. “We just kind of put our head down, tried not to pay attention and took it one day at a time. We wanted to see it through, and we were very grateful that we were able to do it and play.”
Clarion volleyball has always been in the crosshairs — the Bobcats have long been a litmus test for volleyball teams in District 9 and beyond.
This year, though, teams will be gunning for Clarion with even more resolve.
“Everyone we play is going to say, ‘How cool would it be if we could beat a state champion?’” Best said. “Everyone’s going to bring their best to beat us.”
That’s fine with them. They welcome it.
“I actually like it,” Burns said. “Everyone is going to be like, ‘Oh, we get to play Clarion.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m on Clarion. I’m with them every day, practicing with my teammates.’ I get to say I’m part of Clarion volleyball.”
Clarion lost two big pieces of their state-championship puzzle. Erica Selfridge and her 224 kills is gone. So is Brenna Campbell and her eye-opening 689 assists at setter, a position that has churned out all-state performers nearly every single year for the Bobcats.
Brenna Campbell was a four-time all-state selection. Her replacement this year will be senior Noel Anthony.
“She’s doing a fantastic job,” said Shari Campbell. “Every year that we turn it over to a new setter, they have to follow somebody who’s been all-state. I’ve had nine setters in my career here and eight of them have been all-state, so there are big shoes to fill. But Noel Anthony is more than ready at this point, and I’m excited for her.”
Clarion, not surprisingly, was well represented on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State team in 2020.
Best, Burns, Campbell, Selfridge and Girvan all made the team.
Burns, who had 360 kills, 51 aces and 124 digs last season, is a two-time selection.
“It just feels really good,” Burns said. “It’s kind of a little reward for all the hard work we’ve put in. One thing that I really want to highlight is I could not have gotten the all-state award without that pass and that set. There’s so many ways I wish I could express that it wasn’t just me, it was my team.”
The three returning all-state players — and well, the rest of the deep team as a whole — are gunning for even more success as this season rapidly approaches.
Clarion attended two team camps — one at Class 2A champion Trinity in Camp Hill and one at Fort LeBoeuf in Erie — and played extremely well.
Nothing short of another state title will satisfy this group.
“Our first goal is always to win the championship and be undefeated,” Girvan said.
“It was awesome to say I was part of that Clarion volleyball team (that won the state title last year),” Burns added. “But now, on the other side, we’re gonna do it again. We’re gonna come back and we’re gonna do it again. And it’s gonna be awesome.”