All season, Max Laing reminded his players that 2014 might be the last time Gettysburg plays its Mid-Penn rivals for a while.
But even the Gettysburg softball coach never really considered how the Warriors' move from the conference it's called home for the last 23 years to the YAIAA would hit him emotionally.
"I didn't fully reflect on it until I was sitting at the table at the all-star meeting," Laing said. "I thought, 'I won't be here next year. It will be a whole new group of people.'"
The upcoming season will be taxing for Warriors leadership as the group collectively begins to get to know its new YAIAA rivals. Since 1992, the Warriors have shuffled around the Mid-Penn, mostly playing in the Keystone and more recently the Colonial division. They've had to make adjustments, but none like this.
"I don't think it will truly hit us until we start talking about who our next opponents are," he said. "I usually have a fairly good scouting report put together, but now we won't know a lot."
No current coach was with the program for the entirety of its 23-year run in the conference, although former wrestling coach Perry Smith came the closest, retiring last year. Swimming coach Amanda Turner is the longest-tenured active coach, beginning her coaching career in 1999, and Laing is right behind, starting as an assistant in 2001 and moving to head coach in 2004.
A Chambersburg graduate, Laing said he would miss the opportunities to play the teams he built rivalries with since his teenage years.
"A bunch of the coaches we played against were also Chambersburg graduates," he said. "I'll miss all of those guys, especially the ones who have been around as long as I have."
In their final year in the Mid-Penn, the Warriors claimed division championships in boys' soccer, boys' track and field, and girls' volleyball. They qualified for the District 3 tournaments in field hockey, boys' soccer, football, girls' volleyball and boys' and girls' basketball. Also making districts were seven track athletes, four wrestlers, three swimmers and one swimming relay team. Cross country runner Dan Filler earned a sixth-place medal at districts in Hershey.
The boys' soccer team has the most to lose in the switch. The Warriors' streak of 47 straight Mid-Penn Colonial victories is still intact.
"It's kind of cool that it remains intact as is," soccer coach Scott Hancock said. "The players are looking forward to playing in a tougher conference."
The Warriors have no delusions that they will match that streak in YAIAA Division II, where they will face the likes of Susquehannock, West York and York Suburban. In the fall, Gettysburg entered the District 3 Class AA tournament as the top seed before losing to Susquehannock, 1-0.
"Sometimes you need a new source of motivation," Hancock said. "Good competition will make us better and hopefully prepares us better for the playoffs, assuming we make them."
The Warriors football team had just built itself back to respectability, taking second in the Colonial Division in the second year under coach Matt Heiser. Previously a coach at Boiling Springs, Heiser said the Mid-Penn has more sturdy linemen but believes the YAIAA has better skill position players.
"If you look at the playoff picture, the teams in the YAIAA league actually do better than the teams in the Mid-Penn," he said. "This will be a whole new chapter. We'll be getting to know new people, and the feel will be totally different."
The Gettysburg field hockey team experienced both sides of the Mid-Penn's sword, receiving a thrashing for years by Palmyra, Lower Dauphin and Hershey in the Keystone Division before eventually winning a division championship in the Colonial. Head coach Janelle Ebaugh said being in contention made a world of difference for her players' confidence.
"We have an opportunity to change the school climate a bit," she said. "We aren't expecting to come in and dominate everything, but we should be competitive. That makes for a really cool school atmosphere."
Ebaugh said she can only hope the YAIAA drives her players, coaches and even herself to be the best they can be.
"The coaches in the Mid-Penn showed a lot of integrity in trying to build their programs," she said. "Seeing that pushed me to continue that growth in Gettysburg."