MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Korrin Burns’ serve glanced off the arms of Sacred Heart’s Bella O’Toole setting off a wild celebration on the Clarion side of the court, as the Lady Cats claimed their second consecutive PIAA Class 1A title with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-13, 25-18) win Saturday morning at Cumberland Valley High School.
“It was like slow motion,” senior setter Noel Anthony said of watching the historic point from her front-row seat at the net. “I saw the ball fall off that girl’s hand, and I was like, oh my gosh. I felt my heart drop. It was awesome.”
Relisten to the match
Senior Libero Jordan Best had a similar reaction.
“I just watched the ball go,” Best said. “I watched it fall to the floor. I am like, oh my gosh, we won. My first reaction was to fall to the floor and just start screaming.”
For Clarion head coach Shari Campbell, she couldn’t think of a better player to have serving for state-championship point.
“I looked out there, and Korrin was serving for match point,” Campbell said. “No better way to go out. Everybody talks about the big swing, the way she plays at the net. But, she’s worked super hard on her serve and becoming consistent. I thought I didn’t want the ball in anybody’s hands at that point other than hers. I was super excited it turned out that way.”
Super excited indeed. Because who better to have the volleyball in her hands at the end of a championship match than one of the best, if not the best player in school history.
Burns, despite a slower than usual start Saturday, was still queen of the court with a match-high 19 kills while adding seven digs and three aces.
“It is amazing,” Burns said. “Everyone I love is here. Everyone I care for. It is an awesome experience to make with my team. Right now, I see all my friends taking pictures together.”
Watch Burns’ full postgame video
Those friends, those teammates, were a big reason Clarion is now a three-time state champion (the Lady Cats also won in 2012) while winning 45 straight matches that have seen it lose just three sets in two years.
It was anything but a one-woman show Saturday, as Aryana Girvan added 10 kills, Payton Simko six, and Adia Needham four.
“I think it was pretty important spreading it (around),” Simko, another senior, said. “We know Korrin can hit, Aryana can hit. A lot of teams haven’t seen the other players, and I think that is good to have.”
The Lady Cats (21-0) needed those players, especially in a first set that wasn’t as clean as they would have liked it to be (more on that here coming soon).
Clarion committed 10 hitting errors, two serving errors, and at least one passing error to help Sacred Heart stay in the set for the duration.
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But in the end, behind nine kills from Burns, five from Girvan, two from Simko, and one from Anthony, the Lady Cats secured the 25-22 victory.
“I think we were a little hyped in the first set,” Campbell said. “All those seniors, their last match, knowing it, we ended up with some balls going long, a little bit of juice. And then we felt like we had to dial back, which is never good. It’s better to be aggressive.”
The opening set saw seven lead changes and 16 ties with the last tie coming at 22-all.
But Adia Needham had a huge block to give Clarion the lead for good, 23-22, a hitting error made it 24-22, and Needham then recorded an ace to give the Lady Cats the all-important one-set-to-none lead.
“We saw some great play from Korrin, Payton, Aryana, and Adia in the middle,” Campbell said. “And Taylor Austin had four blocks today.”
With the first set behind it and the win in hand despite not playing as well as it would have liked, Clarion turned on the jets, so to speak, in the second set and used a 14-1 run that started with a 10-0 spurt, to cruise to the easy 25-13 victory.
“After the first set, we knew we had complete control and were able to take over the game,” Girvan said.
Watch Girvan’s full postgame video
Campbell credited Anthony’s serving for the 10-0 run, as she served nine of the points, including three aces.
“That was all Noel Anthony’s serve,” Campbell said. “For her to just be so steadfast back there and just kind of grow that lead, it was great.”
Smelling the championship, Clarion rolled out to a 10-2 lead in the third set behind two kills and a block from Burns, two kills from Simko, and single kills from Needham and Anthony.
But Sacred Heart didn’t go away quietly and rallied back to cut the deficit to four, 14-10, on a kill and an ace from Emily McKenna and a pair of net violations on Clarion.
This time, it was Girvan that stopped the run recording three kills to help Clarion push the lead back to six, 18-12.
One last push by the Lions (19-8) cut the deficit back to three, 19-16, on a kill by Elizabeth Cuskey, but two kills by Burns made it 21-16 and forced a Sacred Heart timeout.
“I think there is a common denominator here,” Anthony, who had 33 set assists, eight digs, and three aces, said. “First set is a little rough, the second set is really good, and the third set is a little closer. We were just trying to stay calm, take it point-by-point. It really didn’t matter what their score was. It just mattered who got to 25 first.”
Watch Anthony’s full postgame interview
After the timeout, a Simko block made it 22-16.
The Lions got the next two points to make it 22-18, but a service error made it 23-18, and a Simko kill made it 24-18 before Burns’ ace won the title.
“It feels really awesome,” Simko said. “There really is no difference (from last year). The team chemistry is still there. The fun of it is still there. It is pretty awesome.”
Watch Simko’s full postgame video
Clarion is just the fourth team to go back-to-back in Class 1A since the PIAA added a 1A classification in 1999 joining Farrell (2001 and 2002), Reading Central Catholic (2006 and 2007), and Northern Cambria (2018 and 2019).
“It is crazy to win it once, so it’s even crazier to win it two years in a row,” Best, who had a team-best eight digs, said. “It is just so special because it is my senior year. That was my last volleyball game, and I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.”
Watch Best’s full postgame video
(We apologize for it being from behind. We were not permitted on the court for the video ceremony)