SHIPPENVILLE, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Noel Anthony sits on a bench in front of her baby grand piano named “Black Betty,” pauses for a beat, then begins playing.
The first few notes of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody resonate.
By the time she reaches the “guitar solo” portion of the suite, her fingers pass frenetically over the keys.
It’s just the kind of up-tempo composition Anthony enjoys. No traditional classical music for her. She relishes turning more contemporary songs into unique piano solos.
The instrument is her escape — a way to unwind after a busy day.
The recent Clarion Area High School graduate has had plenty of those over the years.
“It’s my stress relief,” Anthony said. “I say softball is my first love. Well, it’s tied with the piano.”
Softball was just one of the things that filled Anthony’s hectic schedule growing up and throughout high school.
An athlete as well as a musician, Anthony was a three-sport standout at Clarion.
On the volleyball court, she was an all-state setter as a senior, piling up a staggering 914 assists to help the Bobcats to a second straight undefeated PIAA championship season.
She played basketball, too, and started at guard for Clarion.
But it was on the softball field where Anthony feels most at home — that and sitting at a baby grand.
Anthony batted .509 with six doubles, four triples and 10 RBIs in 17 games for the Bobcats this season. Last year as a junior she also put up outstanding numbers, hitting .554 with a home run, 15 doubles and 22 RBIs.
This season in 68 plate appearances, Anthony didn’t strike out once and walked 11 times.
“I’m actually pretty proud of that,” Anthony said. “I always tell myself, ‘You know, they can get you out — whatever — but they’re gonna have to earn it. I’m not striking out.’”
Anthony was a first-team, all-state selection by the Pennsylvania High School Softball Coaches Association. Anthony has the rare distinction of being named to an all-state team in two sports in the same season.
But softball didn’t come easy for Anthony. As a freshman, the outfielder excelled in the field, but was a mess at the plate.
(Photo by Theresa Forrest)
Anthony had every imaginal flaw in her swing.
“I really struggled opening my hips a lot,” she said, beginning a laundry list of hitting no-nos. “I was stepping out a lot. I was’t getting to the whole play. I wasn’t loading before the swing. And, sometimes, I closed my eyes.
Yeah, I really, really, really struggled,” she added, chuckling. “I hated hitting. I loved going out to the outfield. I loved fielding. I hated batting. My dad helped me realize that hitting is very important.”
Anthony and her father worked hard on her approach at the plate. He taught her how to load, how to cover the whole plate, how to attack the pitch and, yes, how to not close her eyes.
When COVID-19 shut down the season the next year, Anthony had even more time to improve. She emerged a radically different offensive player, one that had colleges looking at her to play at the next level.
“It was really upsetting losing that year, but it was a blessing, I guess,” she said.
Anthony will play softball next season at Grove City College. When she visited, she fell in love with the campus, the Christian atmosphere and the softball program.
A perfect fit.
She said her crazy schedule in high school will prepare her for the rigors of balancing the high academic standards at GCC with also playing softball.
“I think the fact I was a three-sport athlete will really help me going into college,” Anthony said. “I kind of mastered time management.”
It was still a grind at time for Anthony, who sacrificed a lot.
“It was tough, but I was just kind of used to it,” she said. “I never, ever, ever had free time. I would go from one thing to the next thing to the next thing.”
Last summer was particularly taxing for Anthony.
She was preparing to follow in the big footsteps of Brenna Campbell as the Clarion volleyball team’s setter. Campbell had landed on the all-state team all four years she was the setter and it was Anthony’s turn to move into that role.
Anthony spent hours in the gym, honing her skills.
(Noel Anthony and Aryana Girvan hug after a win that sent the Clarion volleyball team to the state championship match last November)
She began playing the sport relatively late. At first, she ran cross country until she realized “I don’t like to run,” she said, laughing.
Anthony finally switched to volleyball in the eighth grade, but she had one condition.
She didn’t want to be a setter, even though her mother, Bonnie, was one when she played.
On the first day of practice, Anthony’s worst nightmare came true. Her team lacked a setter and she was picked for the job.,
It was Campbell, though, who helped convince Anthony of the virtues of the position.
“She said, ‘You don’t understand. It’s like the quarterback of volleyball,’” Anthony said. “I thought maybe it wasn’t that bad then. I realized how important setting is. Setters are overlooked. They’re very important and I never realized that then as someone who didn’t know anything about volleyball.”
Anthony spent so much time over the summer on volleyball because she wanted to make a name for herself, too.
“I worked so hard that summer because I wanted to be the best I could for my team,” Anthony said. “I knew Korrin (Burns) deserved the best. I knew Aryana (Girvan) deserved the best. I knew Payton (Simko) deserved the best. I wanted them to respect me the same way they respected Brenna. Just like she earned her reputation, I wanted to earn mine.”
When she was done practicing her setting skills, Anthony was off to basketball and then to softball.
By the end of the day, she was exhausted.
But still had time for Black Betty — her sanctuary.
Not many outside her close circle of friends and her small church congregation know of Anthony’s musical prowess.
She plays four instruments: the guitar, ukulele, clarinet and, of course, the piano.
Anthony taught herself how to play the guitar and ukulele.
She’s named her instruments — Greta the guitar, Ursula the ukulele and Clarice the clarinet. She wanted to name her piano Petunia, but her twin brothers — Ryan and Reed — picked Black Betty instead.
Anthony began playing the piano first at a very young age.
“At that age, you can’t really enforce that as a kid. My parents were super strict about practicing and I’m surprised I never quit,” she said. “I remember at one point I really want to quit just because they were so strict about me practicing, but I’m glad I didn’t because absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. I could not love without my piano.”
Anthony will try to — for at least a little while — as she heads off to Grove City College.
She’ll pine away for her baby grand at home, about 50 miles away, although she will have a keyboard to keep her company that she got as a graduation present.
Anthony can play Queen or “Hey, Brother” by Avicii, or some of the popular country songs she’s turned into piano solos.
“Some people think I’m weird because on my Apple Music, I have piano versions of popular songs. Why do you have that?’ they ask,” Anthony said. “Because it sounds cool.”