THEY were milling in the hotel hallway when their heroes returned. Still keyed up from being at the national championship match, still psyched, still stoked, still hoarse. Then, the first shout rang out. And then another. And the wall of sound grew.
Warriors shared joy
with prep team
"You could hear the hollering down the hall," Cambridge Springs High School volleyball coach Rick Welker said.
They were back.
The triumphant Hawaii players answered the call with whoops of their own as they filed in, and soon the Days Inn was filled with celebration and jubilation and noise. They had done it. They had really done it.
"You could just feel the emotion that they had," Cambridge Springs junior middle hitter Brad Boylan said, and, for a few heavenly moments, Cambridge Springs matched it, breathed it in, shared in this with them, too.
It was a roaring welcome back to the fourth floor.
THEY WERE CHECKING in as they first saw them coming out, and couldn't help but turn their heads. Giants! These tall men must have been volleyball players just like them, real volleyball players, elite college volleyball players in town for the final four. Cambridge Springs, the Blue Devils, were there too, playing in the State College Invitational, with tickets to the NCAA final at the end of the weekend as icing on the cake.
It was a big trip for this group from rural northwestern Pennsylvania, a thrill just to see the Hawaii team trudge off to its Friday practice. And from the same hotel!
Then they met the Hawaii players, in the elevator, in the halls, they were on the same floor, and the two teams shared words of encouragement for each other. The Hawaii players gave them green and white pompoms and other UH freebies and just seemed like real nice guys.
Welker told his boys to give the Hawaii guys room, not to smother their newfound stars, much like Mike Wilton probably told his troops to avoid distractions. But it was nice, and they chatted, and they had a common bond.
They were volleyball players, and they were together on the fourth floor.
AT THE MATCH, two teams were ready. Cambridge Springs had its blue outfits and green pompoms and the boys were high as kites. Their new favorite team was in the national finals, and they were raring to go.
The mood in the rest of the arena was somewhat subdued. Home favorite Penn State was out, and the crowd was polite, and finally, during a silent time out, the Devils could take it no longer.
They shouted and chanted and stood, and went crazy. "We came to have fun," Boylan said, and they did. Soon, the crowd was looking, and the Hawaii followers turned around -- who were these guys? Disbelief turned to smiles, and Hawaii fans got out their cameras to record this spectacle for the folks back home.
Then more people seemed to get into the spirit, and "The Warrior" saw them, running over to heave Hawaii souvenirs up at them, but they were too far away. But it didn't matter. The tide had turned. At Aloha Ball, the Blue Devils stood, and now the whole place was with them.
"The whole place sort of became Hawaii," Welker said.
"We kind of felt a little like we had contributed," said Seth Davis, a junior outside hitter.
Said his coach, "It was definitely a night they will never forget."
IT WAS AN indescribable feeling as they tried to take in what they had just seen. Could they believe it? None of them could. The excitement wouldn't leave them, as they wandered around that night on the fourth floor.
Then they were back! And the celebration began anew, as the national champions filtered in, and there were autographs and pictures and congratulations galore.
These were the same guys they had just seen win the national championship!
The heroes told the boys that they had heard every cheer, and the boys asked what it was like to win it all, and the heroes told them.
Tony Ching was still out in the hallway of the fourth floor, even after it had all calmed down, Tony Ching was still talking about the championship and his eyes were like lanterns. A group of Blue Devils clustered around him, to soak in his excitement, to hang on his every word. At 11 at night Ching talked about what this championship meant, about dedicating himself to volleyball these past three years, and the boys were enraptured, ready to run through walls now.
"I wanted to play right there," Davis said. "I wanted to go out and play for a championship."
They played for the first time since then last night, losing in four games to their rival Maplewood, a top 10 team with a 6-foot-7 Penn State signee.
"We may still get one more shot at them, in the district playoffs," Welker said.
They've seen it happen before. The guys on the fourth floor showed them the way.
Kalani Simpson can be reached at email@example.com