Many times, members of a team will make the comparison to a family.
For the Erie volleyball squad, that can be an apt connotation, with a significant portion of the Cardinals' roster joined by blood as well as by the uniform they wear.
Varsity veterans Paige Rus and Courtney Cobert, both key players in last year's turnaround under first-year coach Alicia Murphy, have gotten to enjoy the Cardinals' flight back to the upper reaches of the Three Rivers Conference with their own family, as freshmen Peyton Rus and Rachel Cobert have each quickly made names for themselves.
Both outside hitters, the younger siblings have seemlessly integrated into a lineup headed by the older Rus, a senior middle hitter, and the elder Cobert, a junior and three-year varsity standout who has also made a smooth transition from the front lines to the libero position.
"All of the girls have brought the younger two in, and Courtney and Paige have been so good for this team,'' said Murphy, whose 16-8 club is second in the Three Rivers Conference at 7-3, trailing only Riverdale. "I know the younger girls look up to their sisters, and the other teammates as well, which has made the transition nice and easy for all of us.''
The fact that this has been the most successful season for Erie volleyball since the Redbirds captured conference and Class 1A regional championships nearly four years ago has made this year's grouping extra special for the sisters.
"It's very special to be able to share this with Peyton, and make lots of memories we'll be able to talk about when we're older,'' said Paige Rus. "At the same time, we have just this one year together, so being able to spend it sharing the experience of a successful season is really special.''
"I guess you'd say from the beginning of the year, my goal was to be on the varsity team with Courtney," said Rachel Cobert. "You would think it could be kind of hard, because of two sisters not agreeing on something or not getting along, but Courtney provides me with a lot of guidance. If I need help, she knows the ropes.''
Marking the calendar
For the elder Cobert, the chance to share the court with her younger sibling was something she had effectively marked on her calendar.
"I've been looking forward to this year, because I knew I'd get to play with Rachel,'' said Courtney. "It's been nice to have her there to experience everything with me, and now I know I'll get to play with her again next year."
Although excited at the prospect of teaming up with Rachel, Courtney Cobert kept that excitement in reserve as pre-season workouts began.
"I actually played club with her over the winter,'' she said, "but I didn't know at first if she'd get moved up. At the beginning of the year, Coach Murphy told everyone they had a free chance of making it. Rachel worked for her spot, and I helped and encouraged her there; I really wanted the chance to play with her.''
It's a chance the younger Cobert gives thanks for, especially with the results this season.
"She loves sports as much as I, and she loves volleyball; she's a real competitor,'' said Rachel. " ... We feel there's something special going on with this team, and it's good to be a part of it with my sister and so many of my friends.''
Following in the footsteps
For the younger Rus, the chance to add to her family's impressive sports legacy at Erie and follow in the footsteps of her older sister was something that spurred her own as she worked for her own spot on the Cardinal varsity roster.
"It's been my goal, because I knew I'd only get this one year to play with her,'' said Peyton. "I knew it'd be a great thing to do, and I really wanted to work hard, to play like her and just be like her. It's been a real goal of mine to be like Paige, and live up to what she's been doing. She's leaving a big legacy, and I want to keep going in her footsteps.''
Not only does she enjoy the chemistry between herself and her older sister, but Peyton Rus also realizes the significance of two sets of siblings on the same team -- many times on the same floor -- and sees it continuing in another athletic setting.
"Oh yeah, we always talk about having four players as sisters; we dig on it a lot,'' she said. "We've said it'd be great in track to have a relay team with the two Cobert sisters and the two Rus sisters. It's been so much fun, all of us being able to play together."
For her part, Paige Rus finds herself wishing she could have been in Peyton's shoes back during her freshman year, recognizing the benefits both younger siblings have enjoyed in their roles.
"It's really pushed both of them to be better athletes, and I know if I'd had that as a freshman, I could've pushed myself a lot harder as well,'' said Paige. "My goal, even if Peyton doesn't take anything else from me, is that she gets a good outlook and attitude from me, and that I've been a good role model to her."