Margins are usually razor thin in volleyball when two great teams meet, with only a point here or there deciding their season’s fate. And that was the case in the PIAA Class 2A girls’ state final played at Cumberland Valley High School, where Philipsburg-Osceola brought their 25-0 perfect record into a packed gym against Trinity’s same perfect slate on November 18.
If you asked those who closely follow Pennsylvania volleyball back in August who would meet up in November to decide the state championship, the unanimous answer would have been these two great powerhouse programs. This championship match marked the third time in four years that the Shamrocks have reached the finals. The word dynasty is murmured about Trinity’s program, often for good reason – they excel at the elite level because they work hard, play hard and are fundamentally sound in every facet of the game.
But the number 24 will haunt Trinity’s memory of the 2023 final. It was a tense, action-packed match against the Mountaineers in which no team had more than a four-point lead all match long. After the Mounties won the first match 28-26 with each team having three set points, Trinity came back to win the second set 25-22 to even things up. But in the third and fourth sets, Philipsburg, out of District 6, unsurprisingly relied on their superstar, 6’3” outside hitter number 24, Reese Hazelton, to drill big hits at Trinity’s defense. It’s not that Trinity did not block or dig well against her relentless barrage, it was just the fact that Hazelton’s game, when set well, was impossible to stop in the end. There is a reason the impressive, physical force is going to play major college volleyball for the Hoosiers of Indiana University, where she is destined to make a mark in the Big Ten – a loaded conference for great collegiate volleyball.
Not only could Hazelton pulverize her kills, her court awareness and ability to find the seams in Trinity’s defense was the difference. There was plenty of finesse in her game to match the power. Philipsburg’s win was their program’s first ever state championship, and they had an answer for Trinity’s excellent serving game and hitting. The Mounties passed the ball effectively off the serve, which set-up Hazelton consistently.
While the season came to a disappointing, tearful end for the ’Rocks, they played an outstanding match against a formidable opponent determined to win a four-set match that came down to a mere ten-point margin out of 189 played points. And that margin was number 24’s doing.
“We fought and gave everything we had, and we definitely had some tears there, but I said to them that there is no reason to be crying as you gave everything you had and left your blood on the floor… They, she, were just too good on the other side,” head coach John Barrick said after the game with the media. “We have a really nice, solid team coming back for next year, and I know other teams and people across the state do not want to hear that, but we are already thinking big for next year, so we believe…. This year’s team was incredible, they worked so hard, and I hate to see it end…. They were such a good group of girls.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness