DALLASTOWN — The genesis of success for the Northeastern boys' volleyball team can be traced back almost an entire calendar year.
Coming off two disappointing losses to Central York in the regular-season finale and in the York-Adams League playoff championship back in 2014, Bobcat coach Matt Wilson was more than a little worried about his squad.
Could they put those two setbacks to Central behind them? Do they have the moxie to play well in big games against great opponents? Is this a championship-caliber squad?
It only took a few weeks for those questions to get answered, with Wilson's club rolling to both District 3 and PIAA Class AA state titles in 2014.
So it was only fitting for the Bobcats to bring things back full circle Tuesday night in the league tournament championship contest against the Panthers. Less than a week after beating their rivals on their home court, Northeastern again took care of business on Tuesday, sweeping Central 25-21, 25-16, 25-23 at Dallastown High School for the playoff crown.
The victory marked the seventh league tournament title for the Bobcats under Wilson, the most of any school since tournament play started back in 2001.
"Fortunately we're back here again and under better circumstances," Wilson said. "Obviously, last year, we were tested. Our mettle was tested and our pride was tested leaving this gym one year ago. And when I left here (back then) I was concerned. But we were able to turn it around in a few short days, which started a run that has continued to this day."
Defense key: That run hasn't entirely been dependent upon outstanding hitting, either. The Bobcat defense, which can get overshadowed by their bevy of star attackers, really makes life difficult on opponents.
Such was the case in Game 1 Tuesday, when the Panthers had issues with their service game. Central tallied nine serving errors, often the result of trying to be too precise or too aggressive in an attempt to throw off the Northeastern defense.
"Our perimeter defense right now ... we're fortunate," Wilson said. "We have some fantastic players in the back court that have high IQs and can read what's going on. They can use deductive reasoning to figure out what is happening and what is going to happen. The willingness to pursue all balls lends to our success."
After claiming Game 1, the Bobcats were able to coast to a comfortable win in Game 2. A 3-all tie early on was broken by a five-point run and Northeastern never looked back.
Entertaining Game 3: Perhaps the best test — and most entertaining volleyball in the league this season — came in Game 3, with the Bobcats looking for the sweep. After taking a 5-2 lead early, the Panthers were able to fight back and forge ties on eight occasions down the stretch.
That back-and-forth nature really brought out the best in the Bobcats, according to setter Matt Schaeffer.
"Those are the moments that you live for," said Schaeffer, who finished with 27 assists. "Being in close games are awesome. And it's really good for us, as a team, going into the postseason to get games like that."
Central was able to take a 23-22 advantage after a Bobcat hitting error, which prompted Wilson to call a timeout. Just three points later it was all over after the Panthers' final kill attempt sailed past the end line, setting off a celebration on the court.
"Finally," Schaeffer said. "We lost to them both times last year and it was nice to get some revenge."
Balance helps Bobcats: When you look at the Northeastern stat sheet on most days this year, the one thing that sticks out is their balance. Junior standout Reese Devilbiss, an Ohio State recruit, is obviously the most talented hitter on the court most days. But with a complete cast surrounding him, the outside hitter isn't the sole one putting balls on the ground across the court. Tuesday was a perfect example. Philip White led the team with nine kills. Jeff Reynolds tallied eight and Devilbiss finished with just six.
"Our middles (Reynolds and White) were awesome tonight," Schaeffer said. "And we have other people like Matt Thornton (four kills) and Brandon Arentz (six kills) who can step in as well. And that makes it easier for me. So, yeah, it's good that we're really balanced."
Panthers disappointed: While the Bobcats were on the court celebrating and getting pictures taken with their shiny gold medals, the mood was more subdued on the Central side. A year after winning the PIAA Class AAA title, the Panthers and Coach Brad Livingston will hope to find the same answers that came to Northeastern a year ago.
"We came here expecting to win the match," Livingston said. "It didn't work out that way and congrats to them. But we have to go back to the drawing board because we have a big match on Monday (in District 3 action)."
The two clubs were able to advance to the finals after sweeping their opponents in the semifinals earlier Tuesday. Northeastern downed Susquehannock, 25-12, 25-13, 25-16, while Central got by Dallastown, 25-17, 25-16, 25-17.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.