With a share of a section championship in hand, the Cavaliers were awarded a home match for the first round of the playoffs. This again brought more attention to Thad and the team. Thad was discussed on MSA's selection show, and the threat of this team making a playoff run really had teams outside section 1AAA paying attention to this issue. Some coaches were diplomatic and some were upset. During the season, we encountered angry parents, roudy student sections, and even a coach who refused to shake Thad's hand. It was uncomfortable for sure, but with the added tension playoff volleyball was going to bring, who knew what to expect...
The first round match, at Kiski, was against Mt. Lebanon. The Blue Devils came from one of the toughest sections in the WPIAL, and we were all expecting a challenge. With the stakes higher, the kids from Kiski took it up a notch. The confidence gained by winning the big match on the road in Latrobe was evident. Kiski dispatched the Blue Devils 3-2, and moved into the next round.
Waiting for them, after excepting a bye for being the top seed in the tournament, was Pine Richland.
Pine Richland was also a section champion, in the toughest section in the WPIAL. They had been ranked as high as first in the state during the season.
The rancor about Thad's inclusion was at a fever pitch for most of our "road" games, and this was certainly true in the gym at Pine Richland, but it was the students in the stands that gave him the lions share of the grief. The Ram players were focused on the task at hand and to their credit were unfazed by his presence. The best team in the WPIAL seemed to enjoy the challenge. It was a great match with many long rallies, big swings, crazy defensive plays, and shutdown blocks. The teams split the first two games, and it was refreshing to play against a opponent who was willing to overlook the oddness of competing against a "boy" and just go to work. Pine Richland was the real deal. They took control of the match in the third game, and put the Cavaliers away in the fourth.
It was hard helping our athletes except this defeat. Taking a game from Pine Richland was a great step, but it gave our athletes a taste of what was possible, and the "might have been" hurt. The one thing Kiski athletes of this era knew, and still to this day profess, is that there is way more to our story than athletics and volleyball. The off season held so much in the way of questions, none more important than the health of their coaches. While disappointing, losing a playoff match to an excellent and classy opponent wasn't what would define this group. Getting off the mat, answering the bell under extraordinary circumstances would be what we will never forget. Much was learned about the game, but more was discovered about courage, faith and commitment.
Ellen was ready to put cancer in the rear view mirror, Jaime was healing and hopeful, and the team
was eager to get back to open gyms, and work on their game. Jory Rand came out just before Thanksgiving to report on our story.
Jaime's "I will be back again next year, teaching and coaching..." had us all so hopeful.
She started to spend more time at home, and less time at Children's. Indeed, t
here was much to be thankful for.