SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The Clarion volleyball team is very shortsighted these days.
That’s the way they want it to be.
The Bobcats have been determined to not gaze too far ahead. Instead, they have chosen to focus on the now. This match. This set. This point. Nothing else.
(Photo by Nathan Girvan)
That strategy has paid off well of late as Clarion marches toward a possible second-straight PIAA Class A championship. The here and now was Saturday afternoon against Greensburg Central Catholic and the Bobcats again focused on the immediate task at hand in a 25-22, 25-22, 25-17 sweep in the quarterfinals at Slippery Rock High School.
Clarion (19-0) will square off against District 7 champion Bishop Canevin (25-1) on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined with a trip to Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg and the state title match on the line.
“Two more wins, but we’re focused on this next game in the semis,” said Clarion senior outside hitter Korrin Burns. “That state championship is later. Right now we’re focused on Bishop Canevin.”
Clarion was focused on Greensburg Central Catholic (15-5) in the quarterfinals and had little trouble dispatching the Centurions.
The Bobcats rarely trailed in any of the three sets, keeping comfortable leads throughout.
Early on, Greensburg Central Catholic was able to get its middles in position to block — Burns was turned away twice in the first set — but the Bobcats adjusted.
The quickness of the offense was a key. Sets went to Burns, Aryana Girvan and Payton Simko faster than GCC could get into blocking position.
“I was very happy with that,” said Clarion coach Shari Campbell. “That’s part of the plan to make sure that we break down their defense with the layers of our offense.”
The speed of the offense created open attacks.
Burns in particular benefitted from that with 20 kills — most virtually impossible to return because of the speed and angle of the kills.
“Our middles couldn’t get outside to challenge them,” lamented GCC coach Angela Grabb. “We usually get those blocks, but their sets were so fast, we just couldn’t get there.”
Girvan had seven kills and Simko six for Clarion. Jordan Best had 12 digs and Noel Anthony continued to shine with 34 sets.
Burns also had four blocks as the Bobcats played well in their own right on defense.
Clarion was able to keep GCC from stacking points together. Unable to go on ant sustained run, the Bobcats were able to build leads and nurse them to 25.
It made for a frustrating afternoon for the senior-laded Centurions, who lost to Bishop Canevin last week in the WPIAL final.
“Our biggest downfall was when we did get some momentum, we just let it go,” Grabb said. “We just couldn’t get a consistent offense going. We were always playing defensive and catch-up.”
Becca Hess did have 10 kills for GCC, but she worked for every one. With Clarion blocking so well, Hess was forced to attempt cross-court hits, which led to more errors.
“When you get to this level, that’s really important,” Campbell said. “You have to really start to think about what you’re going to do to put pressure on these hitters that are really formidable.”
Clarion has been pretty formidable, especially in recent weeks.
Friday, though, was not a good day at practice for the Bobcats, winners of 43 consecutive matches dating back to 2019.
“We had a really bad practice (Friday),” Girvan said. “It wasn’t good. At all. We figured out that, in order for us to go home from practice, we had to do a lot better.”
Campbell said the practice struggles may have been a good thing.
“(Friday) night, it was bad,” Campbell said. “It was unsettling, but like I told them, ‘Better to do it tonight than Saturday.’”
Clarion will face a Bishop Canevin team in the semifinals that got a scare from District 10 champion Cochranton, which jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
The Crusaders rallied to win 3-2 to set up another state playoff meeting with Clarion.
Last year, the Bobcats swept Bishop Canevin in the semifinals.
That’s the only focus for Clarion now. That next match.
“We hammer that home all the time,” Campbell said. “We learned that last year. You have to love every minute that you’re in it because this minute could be the last one you get. They learned to put their heads down and focus on each minute, because those little moments add up to big things.”