Despite a gut-wrenching loss in the district championship game, it’s still a special time for the Palmyra girls volleyball program.
After winning the Mid-Penn Keystone, and then grinding its way to the MPC Championship game, the Cougars found themselves in that district championship game for the first time in school history.
Now Palmyra gets ready for another first – a PIAA Tournament appearance on Tuesday against Greater Nanticoke.
At the center of it all is coach Clark Sheaffer, who not only has influenced the passion for the game in quickly forming one of the better programs in the area - but through his family, has endured all the ups and downs the most.
“It means a ton. I put a lot of effort, time, and passion into my kids and this game. Falling short in the past was tough,” Sheaffer said, who’s in his seventh year. “We ran into state-runner up Hempfield last year and we were undefeated until that point, and two years ago we ran into Cumberland Valley.”
And being able to share this with his daughter, Melanie, a senior who’s been a major part of the Cougars' success has been an added bonus – along with seeing all his hard work and dedication begin to pay off.
“What’s really nice is I didn’t know if my own children would be able to experience this. My first daughter Megan didn’t get there. My second daughter Monica got close. She was a junior when we were knocking on the door. Now Melanie, my youngest, gets to experience this,” Sheaffer said.
“I was a coach before my kids, and I’ve always been a player. I believe I look through coach’s eyes more than parent’s eyes, but it is rewarding for my daughter to have that in her future.”
And this playoff run is something Melanie Sheaffer will truly never forget.
“Oh my gosh, it means so much to me because I’m going to be graduating and he’ll only have my brothers,” she said. “It’s great I can go this far, and I’m grateful for everything he’s done.”
Plus, being able to share this season’s success with her fellow seniors is the cherry on top.
“It’s been amazing. I’m so excited. This team I play with is great. I’m so ready to play more games,” Melanie Sheaffer said.
And though a father and daughter sharing the court together hasn’t always been easy, Clark Sheaffer is proud to see Melanie’s development, especially in preparation for this season.
“Mel is closest to my personality and sometimes we butt heads. But she also has some of her mom in her so there’s some balance,” Clark Sheaffer said.
“She has the ability to really perform offensively. It was over club season this past season she was able to evolve her back row with her passing and defense. When you have the youngest daughter, she has the pressure of dealing with the oldest daughter and the second-oldest daughter, and all the other siblings. She genuinely loves this team and the team loves her, and feeds off her energy. That right there is a key, as well not having any drama as far as relationship conflicts. It’s just a blessing to have that.”
And Melanie’s two brothers, Tyler, a sophomore on the boys volleyball team at Palmyra, and Christian, an eighth grader, have been a part of the ride.
Clark Sheaffer says this experience for Tyler in particular will definitely be beneficial for his future in a Cougars uniform.
“He enjoys it. He comes to practice every day and works out the girls. He’s physically invested in these girls and doesn’t want to miss a thing. He’s had opportunities to work and earn money, but he’d rather be here and be a part of it,” Clark Sheaffer said. “To experience this district environment is helpful. Then it’s not new to him for when he hopefully gets to have this experience.”
For Melanie, the message from her dad and coach is one that he wants to see her carry on the court, and throughout the course of her life as she gets ready for her final stretch in a Cougars uniform.
“He tells me I need to be a leader, pick everyone up and do my best no matter what,” she said.
Through this whole run, Melanie Sheaffer has also lived by the advice of one of her siblings.
“When I played with her, my one sister always told me to stay calm, just be confident, and push as hard as I can win or lose,” she said.
And maybe it’ll take time for Clark Sheaffer to digest what he’s done this season with his daughter – but what’s beginning to sink in is the impact his program is having on the community – which could lead to more memorable seasons like this.
But he didn’t think it was going to happen this fast.
“It’s not even close. It just started evolving because what happens is the community is looking for more opportunities for kids and we just provide that. Because the success is there, more kids come out, often choosing one sport over another because of the success, growth and development,” he said.
“I’m incredibly blessed. The community has been incredibly helpful and supportive, and the administration, student body and the parents…we have amazing parents at Palmyra. I just want to thank them.”