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Maplewood Volleyball, It’s a Family Thing

The Hunter family may be the first family of Maplewood volleyball now that (from left) mom Susan (Jones) in 1985 and daughters Maggie (2017) and Elizabeth (2022) have won PIAA titles. Photo by Chris Rossetti

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – It’s a Wood thing.

Winning state championships in volleyball, that is.

From multiple family members.

When Maplewood won the PIAA Class 1A title Saturday morning with a 3-0 win over West Branch at Cumberland Valley High School, many of the players had been there before. But not for themselves, but for family members.

           

At least seven members of the 2022 title team – Bailey Varndell, Sadie Thomas, McKenna Crawford, Savannah O’Hara, Madison O’Hara, Megan Woge, and Elizabeth Hunter – had immediate family members, mainly sisters, win PIAA gold in the past for the Tigers.

Heck, for Hunter, it truly is a family thing.

Not only is she a champion. So is her older sister, Maggie (a senior on the 2017 title team) and her mom Susan (maiden name Jones), who was a member of the school’s first-ever champion team in 1985.

“All season, we have kind of had that in the back of our heads,” Elizabeth Hunter said. “We thought it would be crazy if my mom, my sister, and I won states. Now, it is a dream come true.”

Hunter played a key role in the victory with eight kills and two blocks, including the championship-winning kill.

“I wanted to live up to (what my mom and sister did), but I didn’t necessarily feel a lot of pressure,” Hunter said. “We have always played volleyball. We have played on travel teams, and we have always played for Maplewood.”

Watch Hunter’s full interview

While the Hunters have spanned the entire two generations of champions at Maplewood, the legacies of the Thomases, Crawfords, Varndells and O’Hara are also strong.

In addition to Maggie Hunter, key players on the 2017 teams consisted of Sophie Varndell (Bailey’s older sister) and Maggie Thomas (Sadie’s older sister) while Madison Crawford (McKenna’s sister) and Madelyn Woge (Megan’s sister) were freshmen.

Maplewood has a legacy of volleyball state championships. Multiple families have had generations of champions, including, from left the Hunter family (1985, 2017, 2022); the Varndell family (2017, 2022); the Crawford family (2017, 2022); the Thomas family (2017, 2022); the Woge family (2017, 2022); the Tamber Schaef/O’Hara family (2005, 2022); and the Robinson family (2017. 2022). Photo courtesy Maplewood volleyball.

           

“They sat in the stands, they managed the team,” Maplewood head coach Sheila Bancroft said of this year’s players in 2017. “They were there. They wanted to be a part of it. When you get those younger ones here, and we have some junior high girls here this year, they see what it is all about. They want to be a part of it just like these seniors wanted to be a part of it in 2017.”

Thomas, who had 19 kills Saturday, said being surrounded by champions helped forge another title.

“It raises you,” Thomas said. “You want to achieve it, and you see what work needs to be done. Being surrounded by it shows you how much work and dedication it takes.”

Crawford agreed.

“We have always had it in the back of our minds,” Crawford said. “But it was a matter of bringing it to reality.”

Watch Crawford’s full postgame interview

Bailey Varndell credited Bancroft – the love and affection the entire community has for their 35th-year head mentor were seen when they were chanting “Sheila, Sheila” as she walked into the auxiliary gym for interviews and pictures after the match Saturday – for the Tigers’ success.

“Having Sheila as a head coach is amazing,” Bailey Varndell said. “She has been to nine of these things, I think, and has won five girls and one boys championship.”

For her part, Bancroft understands that while the program has been uber-successful with six titles now (five with Bancroft as head coach), each group is different.

“I have been here,” Bancroft said. I have the experience. But I have to feed that experience to them because these girls have never played in that kind of atmosphere. We had to prepare them mentality.”

That philosophy has served Maplewood well in the past. It is serving them well in the present, and it should continue to serve them well in the future.

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