North Penn-Liberty Volleyball is setting new program and individual records seemingly every time they step on the court in this playoff run. Just this year, JoAnne McNamara recorded her 1500th career assist, Maddison Minyo chalked up her 750th kill, Grace Tice and Lizzi Welch went over 100 blocks for the season, and Charisma Grega is closing in on 750 kills and and 750 digs in just her junior season. As a team, their 30 wins are a program record, and they’ve only lost one set all year to a Pennsylvania team. Their state final four appearance is the furthest any team in any sport has gone in Southern Tioga School District. Yet, this team is keeping their focus and staying in the moment. They embody the edict of the great Bo Schembechler: “ No player is greater than the Team. No Coach is greater than the Team. The Team, The Team, The Team.”
“After the game (Saturday) I did talk to them about what this moment means. They are the only Southern Tioga Volleyball team to get this far. They are in the Final Four in a year when many had thought it would be a building year. I then reminded them that they have gotten this far through hard work, determination, and a positive team mentality.” Remarked Jennifer Nawri
It’s that selflessness and ability to stay in the present that has the Mounties in a PIAA Volleyball Class AA State Semifinal against the Trinity Shamrocks out of Camp Hill. The Shamrocks come in with a 17-1-1 record on the season and have notched impressive wins down the stretch, taking out perennial power Central Cambria in the first round of states in five sets and sweeping District 1 Champion Saint Basil Academy in the quarterfinals. They’re led by the trio of libero Ryanne Whitman, outside hitter Katie Sajer, and 6’3 middle hitter Lauren Trumpy. Trumpy’s presence in the middle will be a challenge for the Mounties, who do not have great size. Also, Trinity is a strong serving team, and that will test a Mountie serve receive unit that has held up well throughout the postseason thus far. If North Penn-Liberty handles the size of Trinity well and keeps the Shamrocks out of system, the Mounties skill and athleticism at all spots in the court could make the difference.
The biggest key for the Mounties may be their offensive balance. Few things are as varied as their attacking options, but one of them is their bus ride music selection, which Coach Nawri said ranges from John Denver to Disney classics like Moana and Post Malone. Their party bus atmosphere, in which they will sing and dance on the bus for entire long bus rides, set the tone for a highly energetic team.
“We really just know that to go into these big important games that we have to keep energy up once we get into that game mindset. We just all get so pumped up when music is played,” said Senior Middle Hitter and one of the bus DJ’s Lizzi Welch.
To contrast with this team’s seemingly boundless energy is Head Coach Jennifer Nawri’s calm demeanor. Nawri rarely even stands up during a match unless a timeout is called. Yet, North Penn-Liberty always seems to make the right in-game adjustments. Every button Nawri has pushed so far this season has worked, even though oftentimes it may look like she is not pushing any buttons at all.
“I am a calm person by nature and therefore a calm coach. I am constantly sending redirections to my players, although my voice is not very loud. I always talk with my players as they come off the court and often send messages back onto the court with them. I seldom use time-outs when we are up so that we do not lose that momentum. I use the opponents’ time outs as a chance to relay what is working and mention some things we need to adjust.”
For now, even just six sets away from a state title, the Mounties are trying to keep doing what they’ve done all season. Coach Nawri said they were going to approach practice before the semifinal match the same as they have all year; work on the fundamentals, go over what went wrong in the last match, and go over the next opponent. One thing you can count on is North Penn-Liberty being intimidated by anyone. This is a group that has traveled all over in both school and club seasons and will be ready for anything thrown at them.
“These girls love big matches,” Nawri remarked. “They live for these big moments and this is why you play, for these big matches.”