Before they became teenagers, Halee Adams, Elyssa Ehredt and Hannah Mercer had their own version of the three musketeers going at St. Rose of Lima School.
When they got to sixth grade, though, the close friends split up. Today, Mercer is at Hollidaysburg, while Adams and Ehredt go to Bishop Guilfoyle. While they still talk, finding actual face time with each other isn't easy.
"It gets hard, honestly, especially during basketball season,'' said Mercer, the Lady Tigers' junior starting point guard. "With our basketball schedules, getting together is hard.''
When they were little, Halee Adams, Hannah Mercer and Elyssa Ehredt were forming a winning combination on the court ...
and having a lot of fun as best friends off it.
The PIAA tournament is helping out, though.
For the second time in a row, Mercer's Lady Tigers and Adams' and Ehredt's Lady Marauders will be playing back-to-back games tonight in their respective quests to make it to the state finals at Penn State. Indiana University's Memorial Field House will be the venue of a doubleheader that starts off with a Class A second-round game featuring Guilfoyle against District 7 power Fort Cherry at 6 p.m., with Hollidaysburg and WPIAL runner-up South Park capping things at about 7:30 in a Class AAA matchup.
It will be the third time the teams have played together as part of a doubleheader or tripleheader in the last two years, and it's been a winning combination for the central Blair County schools - they are a combined 4-0 on the first two occasions.
"I definitely enjoy watching them,'' Ehredt, a junior forward at BG, said. "It's a lot of fun, because we're always supporting each other. There's not any kind of grudge or anything.''
In fact, there are a lot of connections between Ehredt's team and Mercer's from about six miles up the road. Ehredt, Mercer and Adams were basketball teammates for four years at St. Rose before Mercer switched to public school. During those same years, the father of Susie Ellis, now a starting shooting guard for the Lady Tigers, put together an all-star grade school team of players from the Hollidaysburg area and the parochial schools, which also included current Lady Tiger junior reserve guard Michele Muir and, for one year, Alex Gildea, Hollidaysburg High's senior forward and leading scorer.
Gildea, Adams and Ehredt are teammates again, this time in the offseason as part of a traveling team on which Hollidaysburg center Morgan Griffith and BG starters Kayla Bates and Courtney Becker also play; Gildea and Becker are seniors, the rest juniors.
The ties don't end there, either. Before taking over as Hollidaysburg's coach last season, Deanna Jubeck coached an AAU team that included several current Guilfoyle players. Although she went to Altoona Area High School, Jubeck herself grew up just across Pleasant Valley Boulevard from BG and went to a parochial grade school. She worked camps at Guilfoyle, where her dad, Bernie, was a player before he became a coach at, you guessed it, Hollidaysburg.
"I'll be honest. They're some of the best group of kids that I've come across,'' Jubeck said of the Lady Marauder players she knows.
Although Jubeck isn't all that much older than her players, things have changed quite a bit since she played at Altoona. At that time, her school was in the same league as both Guilfoyle and Hollidaysburg and was competing with the Lady Tigers for the District 6 Class AAAA championship, too.
Hollidaysburg and Guilfoyle only play once a year now, if that. BG beat the Lady Tigers on Dec. 10 in the finals of the Lady Marauder Classic.
"It's competitive. We're friends, but, at the same time, nobody wants to get beat,'' Adams said of going up against Mercer, Gildea, Griffith, Ellis and Muir. "Off the court, we're best friends. On the court, we're intense.''
Adams said finding out that Mercer wasn't going to continue being a schoolmate and teammate was intense, too.
"I remember exactly where I was. I was on my way back from the beach, and we were going through Philadelphia, and she called me when I was on my way home,'' Adams said. "I remember feeling really upset about it. We were the best parochial school team, and we played so well together, and we wanted to continue that.
"She was like my best friend in grade school. Her, Elyssa and I always ran around together.''
"I always thought I would go to BG, but, whenever I got switched over in sixth grade, I was ready for a change,'' Mercer said. "A small school wasn't really my thing. I'm happy with my decision. Hollidaysburg's my home.''
While the girls still text, meet up on occasion and go to each other's games, sometimes even talking about what might have been had they all stayed together, the fact that they get to play together, even if it's in different games, has been a bonus during this playoff run.
"We're pretty good friends. We're always want to stay in touch because we grew up playing together,'' Ellis said. "It's definitely nice playing in the same gyms, so we can watch some of their games. We've played together so many years, and I know playing with them made me a better player, so it's always nice to be there and support them.''
Hollidaysburg played the first game on Saturday afternoon at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse, enabling the Lady Tigers to hang out in the stands and watch Guilfoyle play the next game. The roles will be reversed tonight, and, while the BG team often takes off almost as soon as its game is over, that might not be the case for the Lady Marauders tonight.
"I'm hoping that we get to stay,'' Ehredt said. "The bus will probably have to leave because it's not a BG team, but I think some of us will stay and watch with our parents.''
If the Lady Tigers and Lady Marauders can keep winning, they could conceivably finish up the season together at the Bryce Jordan Center in the state finals March 24.
"It's nice. We're two local teams in a state playoff run. We both want each other to do well because we're not competing against each other. We're just out there cheering for each other,'' Mercer said. "We just want to see each other succeed.''