MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It was a release, a catharsis of sorts for the seniors on the Clarion Area volleyball team.
For two years, they pushed. Overcame. Never blinked.
They battled through COVID-19 and the specter of a pandemic that hung over them like a foreboding cloud. They never knew when it could all be over. A month, a week, a day from now — gone as fast as a Korrin Burns’ kill.
They battled through expectations. A bull’s eye on their backs. Every team the Bobcats played this season brought their best. Every team they played wanted to be the one to knock them off.
Clarion persevered. And they won another PIAA Class A title. Two in a row. History.
At the end of that two-year journey, the relief was evident on the senior’s faces. They could no longer bottle up the emotions that drove them for so long, especially when people weren’t looking. Those hours spent in the weight room in June. Those hours spent peppering in July. Those hours spent honing their crafts at open gyms and before and after practices to get just a little bit better each day.
It hit Burns, one of the best players in any class in the state this season, not long after her ace put a cap on a 3-0 sweep of Sacred Heart Academy Saturday.
Tears flowed. Lips quivered.
“I’m still kind of in awe,” Burns said.
It hit senior setter Noel Anthony, too.
“It’s just hard to put into words what I’m feeling,” Anthony said. “It’s just like a rush of emotions and I don’t know which ones are stronger or which ones to listen to.”
Clarion had a two-year run that not many teams ever have.
The Bobcats lost just one set the entire 2020 campaign, all the while playing in the heart of a pandemic. They watched classmates get quarantined, family and friends fall ill, other teams struggle with the protocols that threatened to wreck the season.
Clarion, though, was vigilant. They made the decision to forgo in-person learning, trading desks for kitchen tables and went remote to shield themselves from possible problems.
This year, they were also careful. The Bobcats managed to negotiate another tumultuous fall of COVID surges unscathed and lost just two sets on the way to another string of dominance.
“It definitely is surreal, especially in a time that doesn’t always feel so great outside of sports,” said Clarion coach Shari Campbell. “It’s great to have moments like this, and for these kids to bring that to all their fans and their families and for them to feel good about something.”
To Campbell, who has been coaching for more than two decades, winning back-to-back PIAA Class A championships means more than just putting trophies in the case.
“Every time kids achieve something, they go on to be amazing people who can achieve other things in life, too,” Campbell said. “Ultimately, it’s so fun to see how they gain confidence and believe in themselves. They pass it on to each other and they feel like they can take on Goliath and have no fear, which is great.”
A Clarion volleyball team hasn’t felt the sting of defeat in 741 days. By the time next season rolls around, that number will climb to more than 1,000 days.
It’s hard to wrap the mind around something like that.
Even senior libero Jordan Best can’t fathom it at times.
“I just feel like if I take a step back and look at it, it’s crazy,” Best said. “I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s surreal.”
Clarion is the fourth Class A team to win back-to-back titles since 2000 when the PIAA added the single-A class. Farrell did it in 2001-02; Reading Central Catholic in 2007-08; and Northern Cambria in 2018-19.
The Bobcats are the only team to do it with back-to-back sweeps.
One more line on the resumé as best Class A volleyball team ever.
“It’s amazing to see us leave it all out on the floor,” Anthony said. “We gave everything we could and we couldn’t have done it any better. We went to the very end and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other team. This team is amazing.”