Six-time defending state champion Northeastern 'excited' about move up to Class 3-A

Northeastern setter Austin Richards, shown here putting the ball up for a kill attempt for teammate Zech Sanderson last season, returns for the Bobcats. Northeastern will try for its seventh straight state title, this time in Class 3-A. DISPATCH FILE PHOTO
  • Northeastern, which has won six straight 2-A state titles, will compete in 3-A this season.
  • The Bobcats went 34-0 last season, including 10 wins over Class 3-A foes from District 3.
  • The Bobcats will need to replace all-state players Cole Brillhart, Wyatt Hughes and Jacob Cheuvront.

There are two ways to react when moving up a classification.

The first is disappointment. The competition is better, and some coaches, players and fans would rather win more games against worse competition than lose against a higher classification schools.

The other way to react is with enthusiasm. Playing better competition, for some, is more fun, and the players will thus become better college players.

With spring sports practice starting Monday, the six-time defending 2-A state champion Bobcats are welcoming the challenge of moving up to 3-A. 

"We embraced it," said head coach Matt Wilson, who has coached the Bobcats since 1996. "We knew it was coming. We just missed the 3-A cutoff last cycle, and we had some players who were disappointed we weren’t 3-A last year. We’ve been looking forward to it. We get to be on a bigger stage and see where we fall."

Senior Alex Finch said the team was "excited" about the move up to 3-A. They know it will be a challenge, but they're eager to prove themselves.

"We know it‘s going to be super difficult, but as soon as I heard we were moving up, it was one of the best feelings," he said. "My whole career I've been hearing that we’re not not as good as we seem. I wanted to move up to 3-A to have that opportunity to prove ourselves."

Added motivation: Winning six straight state titles means the Bobcats rarely struggle with motivation. Only motivated teams win state titles. 

Wilson, however, did say the move has given the Bobcats "renewed energy" to prove themselves against the best in the state. In Northeastern's 34-0 campaign last season, the Bobcats played 10 Class 3-A schools in District 3. They lost four sets in the 10 matches — one to Cumberland Valley and three to Central York in two matches. 

"We have a lot of experience playing against 3-A schools, which is why I chuckle when some say we’re going to fall off into the abyss. We’re going to be relevant for sure," Wilson said. "I think it's naive to say (our success) is because we were 2-A. You can say that, but I think history shows a little bit different of a story."

Northeastern's Alex Finch was an all-state player last season. DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Finch, an all-state player last season, said the players agree with Wilson. 

"People have been talking about Northeastern being a big fish in a small pond," Finch said. "We want to prove some people wrong."

Difference between 3-A and 2-A: While Wilson said the Bobcats won't change their approach or goals, he did say there is a difference between 2-A and 3-A competition. 

The road to a state title starts earlier and will be more competitive, according to Wilson, because 3-A teams typically have deeper benches.

"The difference is having a quality bench," said Wilson, who was named the Pennsylvania Boys’ Volleyball Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season by the NFHS. "That is definitely a big difference maker. ... When 2-A schools have an injury, there’s an issue. That’s not always the case at 3-A."

Finch said some of his favorite memories of high school volleyball are from matches against 3-A schools. 

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"Some of my most enjoyable matches came against Central in the league and county finals," Finch said. "Whenever you're playing against the higher 2-A teams, they’re good and talented, but you’re not seeing the height, because you don’t have as many people to pick from, like a North Allegheny or a Central York does."

Northeastern's Nate Wilson, shown here in a match last season, is one of two volleyball players, along with Zech Sanderson, who will miss at least the first week of practice as the Northeastern basketball team prepares for the state playoffs. DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Basketball players: Two of Northeastern's top players, Nate Wilson and Zech Sanderson, are members of the boys' basketball team that made the PIAA playoffs, which begin this weekend.

At minimum, the two players will miss the first week of practice. If the Bobcats can pull off an upset or two, that could turn into two weeks of practice or more. Matt Wilson said he always roots for his players to succeed on the other Northeastern teams, especially with his son, Nate, as one of the top players on the hoops squad this year. 

“This isn’t the first one or two years we’ve had to deal with it,” said Matt Wilson. “It takes them some time to get back into the groove, usually two to four weeks.”

2019 preview: The Bobcats graduated six seniors from last year's squad, including three all-state players in Cole Brillhart, Wyatt Hughes and Jacob Cheuvront. Brillhart is now playing at Lewis University, and Cheuvront is playing at Temple. 

"This year will be interesting, especially with how young we are," Wilson said. "We have some big shoes and big holes to fill. ... Upwards of 65-70 percent of the offense graduated last year between Cole and Wyatt."

Matt Wilson referenced Austin Richards, Nate Wilson, Sanderson and Finch as players who he expects to step up this season.

"He has to pick up where he left off last season," Matt Wilson said of Finch. "He has to show he is still one of the most dominant middles in the entire state."

Despite the changes of moving up to 3-A and the loss of three starters, Finch said the goals will stay the same for the Bobcats. 

"It’s still four different races: league, county, district and state," Finch said. "We want to take it one step at a time."

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