It's a long way to go for three hours in a distant gymnasium, where few may know your name and where only your reputation precedes you.
But that is life for Fort LeBoeuf High's girls' volleyball team. Located in Waterford, southeast of Erie, the Bison (20-0) will be Delone Catholic High's opponent in Saturday's 1 p.m. PIAA Class AA championship match at Central York High School.
"It's 275 miles, and it's almost seven hours," Bison head coach LeAnn Byer said Thursday about her team's final trip of the 2012 season.
Therefore, there was the overnight stay in York to arrange -- and a chance today for a final practice ... somewhere.
Byer said school officials were frantically trying to find an open gymnasium in the York area on the opening day of winter sports practices to accommodate her team for a few hours.
"It blows my mind that the PIAA didn't think of this," the seventh-year head coach said.
And yet Byer also said her veteran squad, which includes six seniors and six juniors, is used to life on the road.
"It's not really an issue," she said. "We're not looking forward to hours on a bus, but we've done it for the third year in a row."
That's because the Bison have developed into a perennial PIAA championship contender, reaching the final eight teams in Class AA in the past two years.
They are led by outside hitter Maria Peluso, who has 350 kills and 74 aces in 20 matches. Larissa Cass and Julie Young each has more than 200 kills while Abby Rose has 769 of the team's 834 assists.
This group has a chance at rare glory. The Bison already are the first Erie County team to reach the PIAA finals since 1984, and no team from the county has gone home as a champion.
In past years, the Bison arrived at the PIAA title venue facing pool play en route to a crown. This time, the state high schools' governing group has arranged a bracket with a one-match, winner-take-all duel for PIAA gold.
"The new format allows you to focus on one match at a time," Byer said, adding, "There is a disadvantage. If that night is not your night, you're not really going to recover."
But the Bison are a united group, something which Byer lists as a strength. It came in handy in the Bison's latest match against Mars, when they needed to win their first five-game match in three years to earn the trip to Pleasureville.
"Some games, we play 11 or 12 people and I think these girls get along fantastically, and you will a lot of support for each other while they're playing," Byer said.
It is a relationship developed over six years because Byer also was the girls' junior high coach, a role she continues to have. Consequently, she has a sense of what will be important on Saturday.
"Being consistent and controlling your emotions," she said. "If we can just simply play the game, if they can play volleyball like they've been taught, they'll be good to go."
And what about Delone?
"We'll just say we're prepared," she said. "I don't think I want to give away too much. We have the information we need from various forms of media."
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