MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — A million thoughts are careening through Noel Anthony’s mind when she’s about to make a set for the Clarion volleyball team.
Where she is on the court. Where the blockers are on the other side of the net. Dead spots in the defense. Trajectory of the pass. How many sets have gone to each of the hitters.
It’s a balancing act, and one that was overwhelming to the Bobcat senior at the beginning of the season, her first as the full-time setter.
“Not even physically, but mentally,” Anthony said. “It was just hearing everyone yell and worrying about if I set this person up or if I set this other person up and if I’m setting up one of them too much. It was kind of mentally draining, but it’s been so rewarding. I’ve gotten used to it, and I’m having just an absolute blast.”
Anthony is no longer overwhelmed.
Instead, Clarion opponents have been.
The Bobcats, the defending PIAA Class A champions, are hoping to overwhelm one final opponent this season when they take on Sacred Heart Academy out of District 1 at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School.
Clarion (20-0) has won 44 consecutive matches. They’ve done it this season with Anthony assuming the important role as setter, a position that is thick with tradition at the school.
Anthony has stepped in and not missed a beat. She has 881 assists this season and in 2,155 chances, she’s only made 52 errors.
“During the summer I really worked super hard trying to be the best that I could be for this team,” Anthony said. “It’s great to see that hard work pay off, especially for the whole team. We all have worked really hard to get here.”
Anthony is surrounded by talent at the net. Perhaps no one in the state is more dangerous than senior Korrin Burns.
Anthony has reached a point where she knows exactly where Burns likes the set. When she puts it in Burns’ wheelhouse, she doesn’t even have to see the attack — she knows it’s going to be a point for Clarion.
“I can tell when that ball leaves my hands,” Anthony said. “I can’t always get it in that perfect place, but when I do, I know that next hit is just going to be awesome.”
Anthony said she and her teammates are sometimes in awe of Burns and her ability to scorch the ball to the court.
No one has been hotter than Burns of late. She had 33 kills in the semifinal win against Bishop Canevin. In her last four matches — all playoff sweeps — she is averaging nearly 23 kills.
“We’re all amazed by her,” Anthony said. “Her talent on the court is amazing. Her volleyball IQ is off the charts. There are players in quad-A that hit as hard as her, but she’s probably one of the smartest volleyball players I’ve ever seen.”
Sacred Heart Academy coach Samuel Moyerman echoed those statements.
Moyerman said he hasn’t seen a more talented player in the state this season, at any level, than Burns.
“Oh, I know who she is,” Moyerman said. “I think everyone knows who she is. We have to figure out ways to slow her down and figure out ways to make sure nobody else on the team just jumps up and takes over.”
Sacred Heart, an all-girls school in Bryn Mawr, which is about 14 miles outside of Philadelphia, will make its first-ever appearance in a state title game in any sport.
The Lions came excruciatingly close to appearing in the championship match last season but lost to Marian Catholic in a five-set thriller. Sacred Heart fell behind 2-0 in that match and was down 18-8 in the third before it rallied to force a fifth set. The Lions actually had a match-point against Marion Catholic, but lost the decisive set, 16-14.
That heartbreaking defeat drove Sacred Heart this campaign, and it rolled through the postseason, losing just one set.
“This is a big moment for everyone involved with the school,” Moyerman said.
Sacred Heart is still a young team with only one senior on the roster. The Lions are very balanced, as well. Four players have more than 90 kills with junior outside Emily McKenna leading the way with 211.
Sacred Heart (19-7), which has won five consecutive District 1 championships, is also very stout on defensive. Five players have more than 120 digs. McKenna again is the leader with 209, tied with junior Aly Albanese. The lone senior, Bella O’Toole, has 200.
“They really dedicate themselves defensively,” Moyerman said. “It’s one of our calling cards. We play a really tough schedule, so we have to be able to do that. When you play against some of these schools in our league and in our district, you play defense or you’re going to get blown off the court.”
“We’re not taking this team lightly by any means,” Anthony said. “We’re really just trying to focus on point by point, not even worrying about each set.”
Senior libero Jordan Best was also singled out by Moyerman as someone his team needs to contend with.
Best has been unflappable. Her digs and passes enable the Clarion offense to get in the system.
“She just has continually gotten better,” said Clarion coach Shari Campbell. “She’s really worked on increasing her range, flexibility, and mobility, and you can just see it. She’s a hard worker and she’ll put her all into whatever it is she’s trying to accomplish. It’s just so satisfying for her to be able to deliver that ball. She understands the importance of that first contact.”
Moyerman said it is always important to not fall behind in a set against anyone, but that is paramount against a team like Clarion.
“It always reminds me of that movie ‘Seabiscuit,’” Moyerman said. “That scene when Seabiscuit is going to race War Admiral and the line is, ‘Don’t let that horse get out in front of you because you’ll never catch it.’ That’s what it’s like when you play a team like Clarion with Burns on the outside. If they get a lead, you’re really racing to catch up, and it’s going to be really, really hard. Burns can end a run in a second.”
Clarion is trying to win back-to-back state titles. The Bobcats also won a state crown in 2012.
“We’re not going to hold anything back,” Anthony said. “It’s not like we have another game. This is the last one. We want this one so bad.”