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Tight-knit Irish primed for championship match

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Phil Autrey couldn’t help but smile following his team’s 3-1 win against Trinity in a District 3 Class 2A girls’ volleyball semifinal Thursday night.

For one thing, his team had knocked off a Shamrocks squad that swept the Irish earlier in the season.

Furthermore, York Catholic is heading to its second consecutive district title match.

Yes, life is good in the York Catholic program. It’ll be even better if the team can beat Delone Catholic on Saturday at Dallastown High School and take home the title.The match is scheduled for 3 p.m.

“We’re not there just to have fun and get a silver medal,” Autrey said defiantly following Thursday’s victory.

It won’t be an easy task, however.

Delone Catholic has been a premier program, with 10 District 3 titles to its name since 1985.

The Squirettes are back at it again this season, holding a 16-3 overall record and going 12-0 in YAIAA Division I play.

“Delone has always been a very tough team. I can’t remember a time we have beaten them,” said senior middle blocker Elizabeth Johnson. “It gives us motivation, though. ... As long as we play our game, we’ll be OK.”

It would be another building block for Autrey, in his fourth year with the program.

Last season the Irish finished with an 11-10 overall record and 6-6 mark in YAIAA Division I play.

The team competed in Class A, and won the District 3 tournament with a 3-2 victory over Lititz Christian in the championship.

This season, York Catholic finished with a 15-5 overall mark and 9-3 record in YAIAA Division I. The statewide realignment sent the Irish to Class 2A, yet that hasn’t stopped them from reaching the District 3 championship once again. In District 3 tournament play this season, York Catholic beat Hanover and Trinity by 3-1 scores.

“It means a lot for our program. We haven’t had the greatest success in the past,” Johnson said. “We’ve worked hard for this, this season. And last season too. Both years, we’ve put in a lot.”

Click here to see District 3 playoff brackets

Following Thursday’s victory, players and coaches spoke about the Irish being a tight-knit unit on and off the court.

Autrey said this season York Catholic seniors were each teamed up with two players from the junior varsity team in a mentor-student partnership.

The veteran players were required to show their younger teammates the ropes of being a high school student-athlete – whether it be balancing sports with academics, maintaining social life or fine-tuning their game between the lines of competition.

Autrey referred to those group moments as “family stuff.”

He added that this season, junior varsity players have been consistent participants at varsity practice sessions, including during the most critical time of year – the postseason.

“We did a lot those types of things over the year,” Autrey said. “Because of that, I think it made the junior varsity kids more invested in what the varsity team was doing.”

Johnson, a team captain, said this is the closest locker room she’s been a part of with the Irish. She added that players look after each other on the court, in and out of the classroom, and during after-school hours.

Teammate Rachel Shelley, another senior captain, concurred.

“All the time. We have team dinners, we have team sleepovers, we had a camp out in the backyard in tents,” Shelley said. “Everything we do is together.”

Autrey, too, takes an active role. During Thursday’s win, he was seen playing the role of coach, animated sideline supporter and intense motivator for his players.

“We get 'Hurricane Phil' sometimes," Shelley said with a laugh. "We good good-cop Phil at others.”

She added: “He came in our freshman year, he’s pushed us. We have a real close relationship with him.”

That relationship works well in this locker room.