The great 16th and 17th century British Poet Laureate John Donne wrote in his work “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.”
In short, everything must be a team effort, for if one person stops working together, everything falls apart. The North Penn-Liberty Girls’ Volleyball Team has embodied those wise words of the literary legend, and today their teamwork will be put to one final test as they chase a perfect season in Pennsylvania in the class AA state title game against North Catholic out of the WPIAL.
“I can’t think about anything other than volleyball. Not only because of the nerves and excitement for Saturday but because of the support from the community. Not only Mansfield, but other districts as well have been so gracious and supportive of what we’ve accomplished. I’m constantly hearing “good luck Saturday” and “congratulations” or “we’re rooting for you girls!” (Today) is the biggest day of the season and possibly my entire volleyball career. My team and I know we’re going to have to play hard for the title. It would be a dream come true and I really hope we can pull it out,” Junior standout Charisma Grega said when asked about her feelings on today’s match.
This team is made up of girls from the communities that used to make up North Penn High School and currently make up North Penn-Liberty and North Penn-Mansfield High School. The last team state championship won by any of these schools was in 1970, when Mansfield was led by the top overall basketball recruit in the country and the first high school athlete to ever appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Tom McMillen. This team has been well worth the wait.
This is a team that had to replace five starters from last season, including two-time all state outside hitter Brooke Harvey and NTL defensive player of the year Savannah Doney. Whispers in the area were that, after a dominant three year run, this would be the year that teams could challenge the Mounties.
It has not been so.
The Mounties have lost just a single set all year in the state of Pennsylvania, to Wellsboro in the District title match. They have not just matched the dominance of the teams before it, they have far exceeded, making teams bend and break at the consistent pressure they put on teams.
New starters Grace Tice, Lizzi Welch, Patelin Nowak, Julia Nawri, and Ali Koval have matched or exceed the production of their predecessors. Mainstays like JoJo McNamara, who will leave her career with over an astonishing 1500 assists, Hannah Bowens, and Grega have continued their strong play.
Maddison Minyo transitioned from a three rotation player at middle hitter to an all-around force at outside hitter. It’s taken all of them, and alongside first-year head coach Jen Nawri, they sit just three sets away from a state title.
“We often heard that rumbling that we couldn’t possibly be as good as last season, but we all agreed, often, that we could. We talked about the fact that people just didn’t realize the potential we had in those players who hadn’t gotten their chance yet,” Coach Nawri said when asked about the doubts her team faced this year.
This state final did not happen overnight, and did not happen by accident. These girls live and breathe volleyball. Every single contributor has spent a half-decade or more playing travel volleyball. The miles logged and early wakeup calls have culminated in this. Their work ethic is impressive to most, but it is the expectation inside this program. Rarely a player misses an open gym or chance to play.
“Honestly, that’s what I would have expected from any varsity team. It’s what I will expect from the players next year, too. I think when you have such a competitive program, with talent coming up in all forms, players need to show that they want the team to succeed and that they want to be part of it,” Coach Nawri said.
Of course, that is not how things work everywhere, but that is the culture that has been built at NPL and that has what has got them to this point.
In their way will be the District 7 Runners-up North Catholic. North Catholic avenged their only loss, 3-2 to Freeport in the district finals, with a 3-0 win over Freeport in the state semis.
North Catholic is a school so steeped in sporting tradition that the only banners allowed to be hung in their gym are those that signify a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (now district 7) Title and PIAA titles. A loss today and this incredible season will be left banner-less, something they are determined to not let happen.
They have a strong all around team led by outside hitter Dominique Felix and a great defense. The plethora of attacking options is something that North Penn-Liberty will have to deal with. Similar to the Mounties, North Catholic is not necessarily the tallest team in the state, but they are very skilled, and will pose a formidable foe.
What North Catholic will have to do to the Mounties is something no team has done to them all year, which is make them doubt themselves. The Mounties mental toughness is top notch, and they are a resilient bunch. They showed that in the state semifinals against Trinity when they trailed by three set points in the second set, only to storm back with five straight and take the set.
This is a Mountie team that, once they beat Holy Redeemer, who had knocked them out of the PIAA tournament the last three years, and NTL teams nine years previously to that, started to believe this could be accomplished.
In that same legendary work, Donne urges his readers with one last plea; “end not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee,” imploring people to take necessary action, to step up. It’s what these Mounties have done all year.
Today, they have one final bell to answer.