With every assist, every dig and every kill, they’re putting York County volleyball on the national radar.
The exploits of our local boys’ high school teams — specifically the powerhouse programs at Northeastern and Central York — have long garnered the attention of Pennsylvania volleyball fans.
Now, however, some former Bobcats and Panthers are spiking and setting their way to distinction on the big-time college level, and the folks who follow that sport across the country can’t help but notice.
The boys from York County have grown into young men and taken their volleyball talents to an entirely new level.
Luke Braswell, Royce Clemens at PSU: Let’s start at Penn State. The Nittany Lions (3-1) were ranked No. 8 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association national poll. Their only loss came to unbeaten and No. 2 UCLA in four sets.
Two of PSU's key members are former York-Adams standouts. Redshirt sophomore Luke Braswell, a 6-foot, 4-inch setter, hails from Northeastern, while Royce Clemens, a 6-1 redshirt junior libero, graduated from Central.
A little more than a week ago, Braswell was named the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Offensive Player of the Week. The EIVA just happens to be the premier men’s volleyball conference on the East Coast.
Braswell leads the Lions in assists with 161 (10.06 per set), which is second in the EIVA. Clemens, meanwhile, is second for PSU in digs with 21 (1.31 per set).
Stephen Braswell at Saint Francis: The talent in the Braswell family, however, doesn’t begin and end with Luke. His brother Stephen is having quite the season for the Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) University team.
Stephen is a 6-2 redshirt senior outside hitter, and also a former Bobcat standout. He has his name all over the EIVA list of statistical leaders. Stephen leads the EIVA in digs (51) and is second in kills (59) and service aces per set (0.59).
Stephen has helped the Red Flash to a 4-4 overall record, with all four losses coming to ranked teams. The AVCA only ranks 15 teams, but the Flash would be No. 16 if the poll went that deep.
Hayden Wagner at George Mason: Another EIVA team is also being led by a York County product. Central grad Hayden Wagner succeeded Luke Braswell as this week’s EIVA Offensive Player of the Week.
The 6-6 sophomore opposite hitter recently set personal bests in kills (24), hit percentage (.459), aces (three) and total points (28.0) in a 3-1 win vs. Mount Olive. Wagner is the George Mason leader in kills this season with 54. The Patriots are 2-4 overall. Like Saint Francis, all four losses came against ranked foes.
Reese Devilbiss at Ohio State: Finally, there’s Northeastern grad Reese Devilbiss, who is starting to make an impact for two-time defending national champion Ohio State (3-2), which was ranked No. 3 in the latest AVCA national poll, with its two losses coming to UCLA and No. 5 Brigham Young, both by 3-2 scores.
The 6-2 sophomore outside hitter is fifth on the Buckeyes in kills (22). Ohio State just happens to be the same school where Devilbiss’ high school coach at Northeastern, Matt Wilson, also excelled.
Head-to-head meetings: The best part of having all of these local athletes excelling on the major college level? There’s 11 chances over the next three months to see matches when the former county standouts will battle in head-to-head matches, starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, when Saint Francis and Stephen Braswell travel to Ohio State to take on Devilbiss and the Buckeyes.
Then at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, Luke Braswell, Clemens and PSU visit OSU.
Yes, Columbus, Ohio, is nearly 400 miles from York, making that a tough trip for local fans. State College and Fairfax, Virginia (home of George Mason) are much more manageable at approximately 110 miles each from York. Loretto, home of Saint Francis, is about 160 miles from York.
Here's a list of other future matches featuring the local grads in head-to-head match-ups:
►Ohio State at George Mason, 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3.
►Penn State at Saint Francis, 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10.
►George Mason at Penn State, 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23.
►George Mason at Saint Francis, 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24.
►Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m. Friday, March 16.
►Ohio State at Saint Francis, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 17.
►Saint Francis at Penn State, 4 p.m. Sunday, March 18.
►Saint Francis at George Mason, 7 p.m. Friday, April 6.
►Penn State at George Mason, 7 p.m. Saturday, April 7.
With those contests all clustered around weekends, it provides plenty of opportunities for local fans to see the area players in college action.
More on the way: Even better, there’s no end in sight for the York County pipeline into major-college men’s volleyball. Only Stephen Braswell won’t have any eligibility after this season.
In addition, at least two more local players, Central York’s Cole Johnson and Northeastern's Cole Brillhart, are set to join them next season. Both are all-state outside hitters. The 6-7 Johnson is committed to play for UCLA, while the 6-1 Brillhart is headed to Lewis, which was No. 10 in the latest AVCA rankings.
In addition, Central grad Zak Kakos is a 5-8 freshman libero for Sacred Heart. He's yet to see any action this season, but could be a force in the future.
Those players will help make sure that York County volleyball stays on the national radar for years to come.
Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.