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Philipsburg-Osceola Girls Volleyball Wins State Title

After standing on the doorstep so many times, the Philipsburg-Osceola girls’ volleyball team finally walked into the trophy room.

With one final, emphatic swing down the line from Reese Hazelton to end her incredibly prolific career, the Lady Mounties captured the PIAA Class 2A championship on Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg.

“All the hard work and dedication has finally paid off,” Hazelton said. “It’s really amazing for the team, the program and the community.”

Even by Hazelton’s standards, her performance in the final was stunning.

The senior put down a career-high 46 kills to go with three blocks as the Lady Mounties held off Trinity (Camp Hill) 28-26, 22-25, 25-21, 25-21. She had kills on the final eight P-O points, and 13 kills in the fourth set alone.

Winning that final point and having the team celebrate and hoist the trophy was certainly a special moment.

“It was incredible,” said senior Sophie Granville, who had 12 kills, three aces and three blocks. “We all just looked at each other and we were like, ‘We did it! Wow, we did it!’”

The state final triumph is the first in P-O program history, finally taking first after trips to the 2020 final and 2021 and 22 semifinals. Over the past four seasons the Lady Mounties (26-0) amassed an 85-4 record.

The win also provided a little long-awaited revenge, after the Shamrocks (25-1) defeated P-O in the 2020 PIAA final.

“It’s very surreal,” said coach Dave Eckberg. “It’s almost like it hasn’t sunk in yet. I know that’s cliché, but it really hasn’t. A lot of the game was a blur because there was so much back-and-forth. There was so much intensity in that match. The girls are extremely excited and they deserve every second of it.”

Hazelton, who signed her National Letter of Intent on Nov. 8 to attend and play for Indiana University, finished with 677 kills this season and 2,482 for her career. The 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter’s total for this season trails only the 696 she tallied in 2022 for the program record, and she is the only known Centre County player to surpass 2,000 kills for her career.

Racking up huge numbers in the biggest moments has been typical for Hazelton. The three-time All-State honoree had 170 kills in the Lady Mounties’ seven postseason matches this fall.

Hazelton’s big numbers were made possible by her teammates, who called out where to place the ball – down the line, cross-court or a soft roll shot – to get it over or through the Trinity defense.

“Kudos to them,” she said. “They helped me a lot.”

While Hazelton may have provided the most eye-popping numbers, the match also was notable for the relentless defense played by both teams. They had to grind out every point in a match that took just under two hours. P-O showed little frustration in not being able to close a point quickly.

“Sophie and Reese have been in these situations, time in and time out, big tournaments, I don’t know that they think that way,” Eckberg said. “They take a big rip and then they refocus and say it’s time to block, time to play defense. I never sensed they were getting frustrated, but I was concerned about them getting tired.”

It helped to fight through the fatigue by remembering the disappointment of each of the previous three seasons.

“It was really hard,” Hazelton said of the journey to the final. “We’ve had this goal in mind – the state championship goal – but we kept that mindset of taking one game at a time and that helped us.”

While they’ve had the same goal for four years and the seniors knew this was their last chance, they stayed disciplined in not looking too far ahead.

“Every game it was like, ‘OK guys, keep working. We’re a step closer to that goal,” said Granville, who missed the entire 2021 season with an injury.

The victory is the second PIAA girls’ volleyball title in the history of Centre County programs, joining Bald Eagle Area’s 2018 crown.

They also would have enjoyed celebrating another neighbor with a title earlier in the day. West Branch – the high school buildings are nine miles apart – fell 3-1 to Elk County Catholic in the Class A match which preceded the P-O win.

They also could look forward to another big thank you from Philipsburg when the team returned home, and the seniors would try not to think about the fact they would never again play a match together.

“I’m going to miss them all, more than I could even express,” Granville said. “We’ve all been super tight-knit and it’s a heartbreak to think about not playing with any of them at all anymore.”