There’s an indescribable camaraderie that athletes are able to develop through sports that only becomes strengthened over time.
While the love for the game begins to develop at a young age, so too does the bond among teammates, especially if those players are lucky enough to surround themselves with those familiar faces from childhood and into high school.
Teams quickly turn into second families, and experiences learned from wins and losses on the field, to the valuable lessons off of it, last for a lifetime.
Though much can be learned through losses, success serves as a fuel capable of keeping that bond together long after a regular season ends.
The Tunkhannock Area softball team is in the midst of its most successful season in program history, which will reach its end in the PIAA Class 4A state championship against Mount Pleasant on Thursday afternoon at state college.
Six seniors will wear a Tunkhannock jersey for the final time, but the end result of what will be the last game is only a small portion of a culmination of memories that will last a lifetime.
“The losing was the worst part, we had never seen them get emotional like that and it really hit us that is was over.”
“I remember all of the seniors being upset because it was there final game.”
“Everyone left with tears in their eyes and silver medals around their necks, and I didn’t want that to be us for our senior year.”
“It was such an adrenaline rush just to be there, but I remember the crushed looks on the faces on the seniors when we lost — it hit the whole team really hard.”
Sarah Traver, Sydney Faux, Danielle Krispin, Paige Mokychic, Jenn Bulford and Samantha Stephens didn’t play as freshman when Tunkhannock lost 5-0 to Berwick in the District 2 Class 3A softball championship in 2014, but the loss would certainly strike a cord that they would carry for the rest of their high school careers.
Traver, Faux, Krispin and Mokychic were unfortunately familiar to tough losses, having made the state tournament as teammates in Little League before coming up short.
Bulford and Stephens would go from opponents to teammates at Tunkhannock in seventh grade, beginning a closeness that quickly turned into a sisterhood.
“I got to know them while playing against them, but that’s when our friendship really started,” Stephens said. “Once we became teammates, it didn’t take long to become best friends.”
Though primary used as a backup for her high school career, Stephens has grown to embrace her role and is one of the strongest backbones found on the team.
“It was definitely hard to watch my best friends playing and not be, but I honestly think it’s made me a stronger person,” she said. “I’ll be the loudest girl in the dugout if that’s what the team needs. I try to send out group text or give pep talks to keep things fun and hold team sleepovers to keep us close. We’ve all been able to create friendships and I think it was important that we all came together. Everything we’ve done has created a stronger team and it helped us really click at the right time.”
That backbone quality came in handy earlier this season when Faux discovered she would have to miss the rest of the season because of a wrist injury.
“It broke my heart,” Stephens said. “She’s always played so hard and was really bummer out, but I told her we could form our own cheerleading squad instead.”
Faux was a two-time all-star and one of the top pitchers in the Wyoming Valley Conference in her freshman and sophomore seasons before she was asked to switch positions when Hope Jones and Kendra Schultz arrived as freshman in 2016.
It was a lot to ask of a junior, but Faux embraced what her new role would be.
“I knew they were coming up and I originally thought I would still be able to pitch, but I realized it was there job now and that mine was to do well in wherever I was needed,” she said. “I was able to get used to it.”
“She always seemed to come up in a pressure situation and get the big hit or make the big play in the field,” Tunkhannock head coach Bob Hegedty added.
Unfortunately, Faux and the Lady Tigers were dealt a huge blow during the season when a cyst was discovered in Faux’s wrist, forcing her to miss the rest of her senior season.
“It took me quite a bit to accept it,” Faux said. “There were times when I’d be so upset coming home after games, but realized it was my job to cheer on the team. When we made it to states, that was needed more than ever and I’ve been able to accept it all a lot better now. But, we’ve all been playing together for so long, it’s made everything so much easier.”
The opponents don’t get easier as a team progresses through districts and states, but a past of high-pressured games certainly helps.
“I haven’t really been nervous in these games because we’ve been here before,” Bulford said. “It’s more exciting than it is nerve racking, and I remember feeling that excitement in the dugout when we made the district championship as freshman. We’ve been keeping that up for these playoffs and it’s really helped us in progressing to the final stage. It’s all been so cool for us, because we’re literally the only ones around at practices now. We even get recognized when we wear Tunkhannock clothing around, so it’s really just very exciting.”
Indeed, the support of the Tunkhannock community is always strong for its teams and will certainly continue when the Lady Tigers play at state college on Thursday.
“It’s fantastic to see the people from our hometown come out and support us,” Traver said. “We made history for Tunkhannock and we’re not done yet. To be able to continue our season after school is out is amazing, and to do it while playing with most of the girls I’ve been with since t-ball with Bob Horlacher means so much to us.”
Bob Horlacher last made major headlines with three consecutive state championship appearances, including back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
In fact, 10 players on this year’s Tunkhannock team once played in that league.
“I think the seniors have played more relaxed because this sophomore class had so much confidence when they came in as freshman,” Tunkhannock assistant coach Ron Hampsey said. “The younger kids are so confident, how can the older ones not be, too? As the season went along this year, those kids really rallied and became the leaders they were expected to be.”
One of the many examples of that is in Krispin, who transitioned from also being in the batting order and playing third base last year to solely being used as the catcher for Jones and Schultz.
“We really work hard just about every day and have such a good chemistry from that,” Krispin said. “I know what my job is and know when I have to go out there and calm them down during a game because we’ve played for a while now. I can’t let them get anxious in a big game or a big moment, so I just go out and give them a little break here and there.”
Another example is Mokychic, who has played four different positions in her high school career until now settling in at centerfield.
She’s also developed into one of the most dependent hitters on the Lady Tigers, batting .448 with 30 hits, including nine doubles and a home run to go along with 24 RBIs and 19 runs scored.
“This is ridiculous,” Mokychic said of moving on to the state championship game. “It’s a dream come true for us. We got to do it in Little League and it’s just a recap of that and an amazing way to end senior year. I’m really just speechless about it.”
Six Tunkhannock seniors will leave the field on Thursday as state champions or as the state runner-ups.
“We’ve definitely tried to cherish more moments this season,” Faux said.
“The feeling we were able to have when we were so young is back. This is our last ride together because we’re all going in different directions for college, so this is to make it count,” Krispin added.
“It’s been great to see the seniors mature, to continue to get better, and to see them reach their goals. We (as coaches) can’t even talk to them because we’ll get tears in our eyes. It’s amazing,” Hampsey said.
There will certainly be emotion — just as there was from the Class of 2014 when this graduating class was freshmen — either from the result of the game or from sharing the field with their second family one last time.
But the final out of the state championship game won’t serve as the end of the book for the six Tunkhannock seniors — just as the final sentence to the chapter of this historic season.
Rest assured, there’s still plenty of room left for their future.