MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Sometimes, perhaps once in a generation, a group comes together at a small school and it all just works out.
Also see: ECC wins PIAA Class 1A title
That group is the senior group at Elk County Catholic, and that senior group is a big reason why the Crusaders now stand above everyone else in PIAA Class 1A volleyball having taken the title with a 3-0 win over West Branch Saturday morning at Cumberland Valley High School.
It’s a group that had to feel doubt at times. Had to feel frustration at times. A group that had to wonder if its time would ever come as they watched other teams – first Clarion and then Oswayo Valley celebrate District 9 titles – and Clarion’s case state titles – they thought could be theirs. .
For some, that frustration was felt not only in volleyball but in basketball and softball as well.
But not anymore.
Now they are state champions. Now they will have stories to tell their children, their grandchildren.
The group of seniors – specifically the starting group of Tori Newton, Lucy Klawuhn, Reagan Bauer, and Kiri Emmert – went from being bridesmaids to brides in quick order.
The run may have seemed improbable to some. Unexpected to others. Unlikely to the masses.
But that doesn’t matter. Not to anyone. And especially not to the champions.
The Crusaders knew they were good. Knew they could win. But even they perhaps didn’t realize just how good they were.
At least not until they withstood the rigors of one of the toughest runs a team can endure through the PIAA playoffs.
Wins over D6 runner-up Homer-Center followed by WPIAL champion Serra Catholic and District 10 and defending state champion Maplewood put them on the ledge. But still in front of them was everyone’s preseason, midseason, and postseason favorite to win the title West Branch in the way.
But they started to believe. They started to know. They started to expect. And then they won.
“It has not sunk in yet at all,” head coach Tricia Bauer, Reagan’s mom, said. “Last night (Friday) we were all hanging out and were talking and were like we can do this in three tomorrow. We were like yeah we can do this in three but we don’t think we will. West Branch is a very well-coached team and their players are good. I think we frustrated them a little bit. Our middle blockers have turned it up way much in the playoffs.”
Klawuhn pointed to the victory over Homer-Center, ECC’s first state playoff win since 2013, as the moment she knew.
“After the first state game (a win over Homer-Center), the way we played, I knew we could do it,” Klawuhn said. “I knew we could get to this spot.”
Her fellow senior, Reagan Bauer, believed then too.
“I think when we got to the quarterfinals (I knew),” Bauer said. “We just played so good against Homer-Center, and then we just kept playing good every single game and kept playing better and better. When we got to the semifinals against Maplewood, that’s when we knew we were going to win it all.”
Newton said when the team woke up Saturday morning they knew they had a great opportunity in front of them.
“We knew we could do it,” Newton said. “Waking up this morning, we were so pumped. It just feels amazing.”
ECC not only did it. They did it impressively sweeping the favored Warriors and trailing just five times through three sets and never after the 12th point.
“After the first game, we had a lot of momentum,” Emmert said. “I thought that helped, and we were really confident”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Crusaders’ title was how much confidence Coach Bauer put in her iron six consisting of the four seniors, junior Ashlynn Schutz, and sophomore Payton Newton. She didn’t substitute once.
“It’s pretty special when you have six girls who can play all the way around,” Tricia Bauer said. “You have confidence in them, and they support each other. If someone has a good game, they take that, and if someone is not having a good game they build them up. They are just really, really supportive of each other.”