CRANBERRY TWP — When sisters Hannah and Sarah White were little, they'd spend hours in the backyard playing sports.
Volleyball was the most popular game.
They'd play so hard and for so long, even the family dogs surrendered.
“We'd wear out the dogs — the dogs didn't even want to run any more,” Hannah said, chuckling. “Sarah would ask me, 'Do you really want to go in now?' We've always been pushing each other.”
Fast forward to this spring. The coronavirus pandemic has swept the world and canceled virtually everything — including Hannah's spring volleyball season at Bloomsburg University and Sarah's Pitt Elite club volleyball campaign.
The sisters have found life very much like it was when they were little — playing volleyball for hours in the backyard.
“I thankfully have a sister who plays volleyball,” said Sarah, who will be a senior at Seneca Valley in the fall. “I've been getting outside and getting a lot of touches in with her. I've been going on hikes and walks with the family. I've gotten into a schedule. At first I worried it was going to be hard filling in the day with stuff, but I've fallen into a routine.”
That was important for Sarah, who signed early to play at the next level at Ohio State University.
She wants nothing to slow her down.
Not even COVID-19.
“Quarantine,” she said. “is a great time to keep improving.”
Not that the Sarah isn't pretty good already. A three-time all-state performer for the Raiders, the 6-foot setter had arguably her best season last fall as a junior.
There's little she can't do on the court. That shows in her gaudy statline of 274 kills, 366 assists, 30 blocks and 57 aces.
“I've been able to do it because I've had coaches who have trusted me to play those positions,” Sarah said.
While most volleyball players get the ultimate thrill out of swinging their arms as hard as they can and sending the volleyball screaming toward the floor for a monstrous kill, Sarah takes joy in the more subtle parts of the game.
A setter at heart, Sarah loves being in the center of it all.
“I definitely love to set,” she said. “You get every second touch. You control the court. That's what I love about it. You get to be the quarterback and it's so much fun.”
Sarah figures to be a focal point again for Seneca Valley this fall when the young Raiders take the court.
If they take the court.
Nothing is certain when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Sarah is certainly hopeful there is a season because she believes Seneca Valley can be good.
Very, very good.
“I definitely feel blessed,” she said. “I have a great coach and a great team. We've got a great group of skilled players coming back.
“I'm not too worried about it,” Sarah added about the prospects of fall sports falling to the same fate as the spring campaigns — canceled by COVID-19. “You can't worry about what you can't control.”
That's the same mentality Hannah takes with her to the court every day at Bloomsburg.
She joined a brand new program three years ago. A junior in the fall, Hannah is hoping to increase her playing time.
“It's always the goal of an athlete to want to start, but it's also important to do what the team needs me to do,” Hannah said. “If that means coming off the bench, then that's what I'll do.”
With all activities canceled, Hannah and her teammates — who she says are very close because they all basically came in to the program together — are meeting on social media and Zoom as much as they can.
They are also doing “culture training.”
“What do we want the players in 10 years from now to say about us,” Hannah said. +“That's what the culture training is about.”
Hannah hopes they will be saying she and her teammates set the standard.
Hannah is used to success. As a junior at Seneca Valley, she was on a team that won the WPIAL Class 4A championship.
She sees the same fate as a possibility for Sarah this season. And she's trying to do her part to help her sister get there.
“It's been really nice, especially having Sarah with me, getting in touches every day,” Hannah said. “We are both very self-motivated. She's a setter and I play defense and outside, so our positions complement each other.”
Like Sarah, Hannah doesn't know for sure if there will be a season in the fall, or if she will even return to campus by then.
“I want everyone to be safe and healthy, but as a college athlete, you look forward to the fall,” Hannah said. “That's your time. There's some different scenarios (if the coronavirus restrictions are still in place).”
Sarah found out recently that she made the USA Volleyball women's junior national training team. But she won't be able to participate because COVID-19 canceled all the team's activities.
Now Sarah just wants to finish her high school career in style before moving on to Ohio State, where there is a new coaching staff.
But one Sarah knows.
Jen Flynn Oldenburg was hired in January to take over the program. Oldenburg was the club/associate director of the Pittsburgh Elite Volleyball Association before leaving for Columbus.
That took the trepidation about a new coaching staff — one that didn't recruit her — away for Sarah.
“It certainly was a relief,” Sarah said.
What will be a relief for Sarah is getting back out onto the volleyball court.
Setting and digging and serving and killing again.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, “I miss it so much. I've gone from playing volleyball six days a week to practically nothing. I can't wait to get back at it.”