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N.P.-Liberty volleyball plays today for state title

By GARRETT CARR

Sun-Gazette Correspondent

The great 16th- and 17th-century British poet laureate John Donne wrote in his work “For Whom the Bell Tolls” that “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 words and today their teamwork will be put to one final test as they chase a perfect season in Pennsylvania for the PIAA Class AA title game against North Catholic.

“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 communities as well have been so gracious and supportive of what we’ve accomplished,” N.P.-Liberty junior Charisma Grega said. “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.”

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. The last team state championship won by any of these schools was in 1969 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 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: to Wellsboro in the district final. 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 1,500 kills, 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 coach Jennifer 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,” Nawri said.

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 wake-up 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,” 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 runner-up North Catholic.

North Catholic avenged their only loss (3-2 to Freeport) in the district finals with a 3-0 win in the state semifinals. 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 title (now District 7) and PIAA titles.

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 N.P.-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 — started to believe this could be accomplished.

In that same work by Donne referenced earlier, he urges his readers with one last plea: “send not to know / For whom the bell tolls, / It tolls for thee,” imploring people to take necessary action and step up.

It’s what these Mounties have done all year. Today, they have one final bell to answer.

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