By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
Winning a state championship is one thing. Winning two about a week apart? That’s almost impossible.
Merion Mercy nearly pulled off the double feat this fall. After the Golden Bears captured their second straight PIAA state volleyball title on Nov. 8, the Merion field hockey team advanced all the way to the finals this past Saturday before losing to Wyoming Seminary, 3-2.
“When you look at it, both situations were completely different,” said Barb Clarke, now in her 34th year as Merion’s athletic director. “The volleyball team had a tremendous season and had a bull’s eye on their back every time they played, but they were expected to be very successful.
“The field hockey team was a Cinderella team. They weren’t supposed to get very far. But once they got into states, they were like, ‘We’re not stopping.'”
En route to their third PIAA Class AA title in eight years – all under 11-year coach Rich Johnson – Merion’s volleyball team finished undefeated with a 24-0 record and won all but one game during state play, an accomplishment that borders on the ridiculous.
In the championship, the Golden Bears dispatched Susquehanna with authority, a 25-14, 25-14, 25-21 victory that took about an hour to finish.
Leading the way with Most Valuable Player honors in the state tourney was senior Danielle Carrozza, a co-captain with fellow senior Kristina Purcell. In a beautiful display of humility, Carrozza pointed to Johnson, her coach since seventh grade, when asked about her volleyball prowess that will continue at Temple University next year.
“I said it before and I’ll say it again that he made me the player I am today,” she said. “He’s a great coach and has done a sensational job. He’s a huge reason why we’ve been so successful.”
Carrozza labeled the past two years as a “dream come true.” In case she needed to be pinched, the entire Merion student body and teachers were present a couple of days later when they helped celebrate with a post-season party in the gymnasium.
That, she said, is one of the reasons why she attended Merion.
“They understand the whole person,” she said. “Athletics is only one part of it. When we win, we win together. When we lose, we lose together.”
The field hockey team technically lost when it fell to a Wyoming Seminary team whose standout performer is a nationally renowned male star player who dominated much of the play and scored two of his team’s goals.
Still, the Golden Bears came within one goal of sending the nail-biter into overtime, an achievement that left Merion coach Jen Campbell smiling.
“I don’t think I could be any prouder of the way the girls played even if we had found a way to win,” said Campbell. “They kept fighting right up until the very end.”
Merion had finished third in the Catholic Academies League and third in district play and was considered by more veteran tourney teams as an afterthought. But logic apparently was trumped by motivation and fun.
“You could tell we were enjoying ourselves by the way we played,” said senior Allison Moran, whose three older sisters also played Merion Mercy field hockey. “We didn’t feel nervous. It was more just having fun.
“But that doesn’t mean we didn’t expect to play well. We knew that if we played as well as we could that we would have a chance to win some games,” Moran said.
Moran, a team captain along with senior Kim Keating and junior Tory Romvary, said being a part of the first Merion team to ever capture a state field hockey victory made all of her hard work that much more worthwhile.
Keating echoed her teammate’s sentiments.
“When you think about how there have been so many different players who have been a part of the program, knowing you were on a team that made some history is special,” said Keating. “We came so close to winning a state championship. I don’t think too many people thought it was even a possibility to get as far as we did.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.