“There is only room for one silver medal in our family per day.”
York Catholic girls’ volleyball coach Phil Autrey said that to assistant coach − and father − Bill Autrey after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Freeport in the PIAA Class 2A final. With runner-up silver medals around their necks, the Autreys were already thinking about a volleyball match several hours from the first serve.
In fact, by the time Irish players caught up with family and friends in the auxiliary gym at Cumberland Valley High School after the medal ceremony, Bill Autrey was already in a car with two of his grandsons, headed to Pittsburgh to see granddaughter McKenna Walker play for a national championship.
McKenna, daughter of Bill and Tara Walker, is one of three players from York County to play on Juniata College’s women’s volleyball team. The senior captain was joined on the team by Dallastown graduates Lexy Bloss and Sydney Ohl, both sophomores.
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Juniata made good on Phil’s statement, defeating Trinity (Texas), 3-0, to win their third NCAA Division III national title. Juniata is one of the most storied programs in Division III history, making the NCAA semifinals 27 times in their streak of 41 consecutive tournament appearances.
“We are national champions,” Juniata athletic director Nikki Ayers said at Monday’s livestreamed celebration. “We work and go to school at a place that produces national champions.”
McKenna and Ohl saw significant playing time in Saturday’s final at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse. Both defensive specialists, Ohl recorded 19 digs and one ace as a starter, and McKenna had 10 digs when she rotated into the match.
Phil Autrey said his sister, Tara, who is four years older, is responsible for bringing volleyball to the family.
“We all played,” Phil said. “She played at Bethlehem Catholic, and my brother and I were playing club because the school didn’t have a team. We went to Dad and said the school needed a team and coach.”
So Bill Autrey coached his sons and the new team.
“When my sister played at Bethlehem Catholic, they practiced outside on a macadam court,” Phil said. “The court was at the top of a hill, and since I was younger, I had to chase the balls that went down the hill.”
Even though her mom went on to play in college at Rider, Phil said volleyball wasn’t his niece’s first sport. She started out as a soccer player, and didn’t pick up volleyball until her father’s job forced a move to York.
A coaching vacancy coincided with McKenna’s start at York Catholic, and Phil was hired.
The Irish won a district title in McKenna’s freshman year, and finished as the runner-up the other three years. Because of the weird structure of the Class 2A bracket, only the District 3 champion advances to the PIAA tournament. So McKenna only played in the state tournament her freshman year.
While playing for her uncle at York Catholic, McKenna made the District 3 Class 2A first team three times, and was honorable mention as a freshman. She made the all-state team twice and holds the school’s dig record with 1,060.
She played in every match this season and all but three games. Only one person on the team played in more games than McKenna did. She finished the season with 20 aces and 294 digs, and her career with 44 aces and 625 digs.
“It takes a village to do something special,” Eagles coach Heather Pavlik said at the celebration. “Everyone here had a part in that. This is a small place, and we all work side by side. When you are trying to reach for excellence, you can’t do that by yourself.”
Ohl, a sophomore defensive specialist, also played in every match this season and almost every game. She finished the season with 16 aces and 285 digs. While at Dallastown, Ohl was a league and District 3 all-star and was twice named to the all-state team.
Bloss, a sophomore 6-1 middle hitter, played in roughly half of this year’s matches, finishing with 71 kills, three aces and 33 blocks. At Dallastown, she was a league and district all-star.
Pavlik said the Eagles used a “hard loss in last year’s playoffs” to fuel this year’s run. They finished 34-1, with only a 1-3 loss to Trinity earlier in the season.
Shelly Stallsmith covers York-Adams high school sports for GameTimePA through the York Daily Record. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShelStallsmith.