SILVER SPRING TOWNSHIP — It was right there in the script.
Turn to the last page, at the very bottom. Final point, state championship on the line. Written on bold black letters: “senior Gracie Britten wins the game with a kill.”
All it took was one take, better than any movie.
Up 24-19 against Philipsburg-Osceola in the fourth set and facing match point, Trinity’s Britten cocked and fired once on a backslide attack (returned), fired again on an overpass by P-O (returned) and fired one last time from her middle hitter spot. The last one was perfect, the Mounties helpless to return it as the Shamrocks swarmed their senior, the star of Saturday’s PIAA Class 2A girls volleyball championship show.
Trinity beat District 6’s Philipsburg-Osceola 3-1 (set scores: 25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19) at Cumberland Valley High School for the program’s first state gold.
“It’s fun,” Britten said after a storybook 17-kill, 12-block day. “It’s exhilarating, I guess. When I’m going up to hit, especially on that last point, I’m just like, ‘This is it, this is the point. You’re gonna get the kill, you’re gonna win the game.’”
“Our program rose with her,” Shamrocks head coach John Barrick said. “The reason why we’re standing here today is because of her, and Kendall [Myers] and Sophie Rojas, because those seniors took us [here] — and they’re different, they’re different from what we had in the past.”
It was the perfect finale for the program’s anchor. Britten has been front and center the last three years as Trinity went from playoff regular to first-time District 3 champ to a perfect 17-0 and a state champion.
Through it all stood the 5-foot-11 middle hitter.
And even after a disappointing — by her standards — state semifinal Tuesday, CV’s Eagle Dome felt like the stage Britten was destined to dominate.
And she did.
It was a slow burn. Britten tallied three kills and a block in a tight first set the Shamrocks didn’t open up until the very end.
And Britten only got stronger. And stronger.
Until she erupted for eight kills and a pair of blocks in the clinching set, including four of Trinity’s final six points. The first came when she tossed a well-placed set to the corner of the 10-foot line where no Mountie was. The second came when she smashed the ball straight down into the block.
And by the time Trinity needed its 24th and 25th points, everyone in the building knew where the ball was going.
“I was happy that it was Gracie because she’s a senior, so that was awesome,” said junior middle Lauren Trumpy. “But I think Jena [Minnick] just knows where she needs to set it to get a point.”
“She was fine for what we needed on Tuesday, and I kind of thought today she was gonna be needed to have a big match,” Barrick said. “And she was unstoppable — she hit every ball hard, there was no hesitation, she was there to finish it off. We needed her in that spot for sure, and she carried us home.”
Trinity faced a rare challenge on the season’s biggest stage. The Shamrocks had toasted the competition through 16 previous games, dropping just one set.
But on the other side was a P-O squad led by freshman outside hitter who entered with a jaw-dropping 442 kills, including 179 in five postseason games.
Reese Hazelton lived up to her impressive billing. Fresh off a 41-kill, 15-dig semifinal, the 6-1 powerhouse pounded Trinity with 26 kills and a game-high 30 digs.
Somehow that was below her season average, though, which proved instrumental.
P-O head coach Dave Eckberg had Hazelton go head-to-head with the 6-3 Lauren Trumpy at the outset, who was no slouch herself with 19 kills and six blocks. But by the second set Eckberg rejiggered his rotation to get Hazelton off Trumpy.
Part of the cause: an impressive block when Trumpy slid to the line, playing outside on the block, and stuffed Hazelton.
Huge 25-19 Set 1 win for @THS_VB. It wasn't always pretty, both teams clearly felt the big stage, but it was tight, entertaining and ultimate goes to the Shamrocks, who can now say they have a set victory in a state championship. pic.twitter.com/05cKAaSdPi— Jake Adams (WEAR A MASK) (@jakeadams520) November 21, 2020
“I think she played an amazing game, but we actually run a play where I block from the right side,” Trumpy said. “So I block line, kind of, and the first time we did that I got a block, so that was the biggest energy booster ever. And from then on I was head-hunting for her to go out and try to get a block because I knew if we could slow her down we could win the game.
“She’s a monster, total props to 24, she’s an amazing player and deserves any credit that she gets,” said Trinity libero Ryanne Whiteman, who had 13 digs, joking she’d have bruises the next day after taking on some of Hazelton’s powerful shots. “But I think when you put Lauren Trumpy in front of her helps a lot.”
Barrick felt those early successes were just enough to keep Hazelton off a touch, even though she still led everyone in kills, mixing in an impressive array of slides, middle attacks and back-row shots that will surely get more dangerous in three more years.
“She’s incredible, oh my gosh — what a killer,” Barrick said.
It made for an entertaining show, with both teams on the floor to themselves while a limited number of fans watched from above on CV’s second deck due to pandemic social distancing rules.
“It’s an amazing thing — finally getting respect from our high school and all of the students recognizing girls volleyball as a legitimate sport,” Whiteman said. “But I think it also just sets the standard of us to keep doing it again next year, which I’m full up for the challenge.”
Neither team led by more than six points at any point, and those leads routinely felt miniscule. The Shamrocks only pulled away in the first set at the tail end, scoring the final four points.
In the second set, P-O pulled ahead with a 7-1 run to make it 13-10, then a 5-0 run to take an 18-13 lead. But the ‘Rocks fought back to knot it at 23-23 only for the Mounties to finish it off with two straight points.
The turning point came in the third set. Trinity built a 19-13 lead and seemed in control. But in the blink of an eye the Mounties stormed back, cutting the deficit to 20-19. But freshman Jenna Minnick came through with a kill to clinch it, ending a long, tense rally.
“I think it definitely going into the next game it would’ve been harder because game we came in with the mindset that it’s just like when we played Palmyra,” Whiteman said. “It was the only set we lost during our season. But I think losing the second one definitely would’ve brought us down.”
In the fourth set, Trinity rallied from a 9-3 hole, outscoring the Mounties 15-4 in the home stretch to set off the celebration.
“We have worked so hard all season, and all summer we were playing outside, playing queens and playing doubles, and it really paid off,” Britten said. “It’s just really, really, really nice.”
Email Jake Adams at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520