Northeastern boys' volleyball team storms into state AA title match
EXETER TOWNSHIP — There are a few perils for a high school coach of a spring sports team.
Especially in sports such as boys' volleyball, whose season can extend all the way into early June.
Take Northeastern coach Matt Wilson, for instance. With his club gearing up for another run at a PIAA Class AA state title, Wilson had to factor in that the seniors on his squad would be finished with school during the postseason.
So Wilson, never one to allow a team to slack off on the court, presented his six seniors with an ultimatum — show up or stay away.
"We had a discussion with coach," Northeastern outside hitter Philip White said. "He told us that if we think we're past the season and are looking forward (to summer), to just get out of the gym."
To no one's surprise, none of the seniors took the coach up on that offer.
Elevating his game during the final days of his senior campaign, White played like a man on a mission Tuesday night in the state semifinals against District 2 champion Holy Redeemer. The Stevenson-bound White finished with 14 kills, five aces and three blocks to lead the Bobcats to an impressive 25-13, 25-14, 25-13 triumph at Exeter Township High School.
Northeastern, winners of the past two state AA titles, will go for a three-peat Saturday at Rec Hall in State College. The District 3 champs will face District 7 champ Saegertown, a 25-20, 25-14, 25-16 winner over Obama Academy in the other semifinal.
White mismatch: White was sensation for much of the contest, taking advantage of a mismatch that Wilson anticipated.
"We liked the matchup," Wilson said. "Philip had a great match against them last year and we felt that we could lean on him tonight. And Philip came through big for us."
Whenever the 6-foot, 2-inch, returning all-state attacker from a year ago touched the ball Tuesday, it was almost always destined for the floor — be it on his booming serve, his motor-charged kills or his devastating block. The Royals had no answer for him.
"As soon as I got back there (at the service line), I just felt really comfortable," White said. "I just did my thing."
While the final score would indicate otherwise, the first two games were evenly matched early on.
Momentum swing: A big swing in momentum fell in Northeastern's favor with the Bobcats ahead 9-6 in Game 1. A ball that was initially ruled in on a Redeemer block was reversed. So instead of serving down 9-7, the Royals were again on the receive, but behind by a 10-6 margin.
They never recovered. Northeastern won 15 of the final 22 points to polish off a Game 1 victory.
In Game 2, the Royals hung tight, actually taking a couple of early leads. But with the score squared at 6-6, the Bobcats finished with a 19-8 run to go up 2-0.
Those early stalemates were not exactly what White was expecting coming into the showdown.
"I wasn't expecting a really close match in the beginning," White said. "I thought we were going to get out to a really good start. I thought that we would just go on a really long (run), but we didn't."
Seniors go for three-peat: Now White and his fellow seniors — Matt Thornton, Nic Destevens, Ty Faulkner, Brent Williams and Sam Moore — will attempt to end their high school careers in grand fashion. Despite the pressures of defending back-to-back state titles, White feels no more pressure on the seniors than any of the team's other players.
And that's a feeling that has become familiar ever since the team's dominating run began two seasons ago.
"This means a lot," he said. "I've always said that, like last year and the year before, that we all do it for our seniors. And this year the guys are all saying the same thing as I said. It's nice that they have our backs during our senior year so we can just go out there and play our game."
Rematch: When White and company step on the court Saturday for the 11 a.m. showdown with Saegertown, it will be a rematch of a contest that began the season way back in March. The Bobcats were able to claim a 25-19, 25-20, 25-21 victory over the Panthers on their home court. This time the stakes will be a bit bigger.
"We had our eye on Saegertown early," Wilson said. "We knew that after that first match of the year that (a rematch) could possibly be coming to a head here."
Statistics: White (14 kills, five aces, three blocks, two digs), Matt Schaeffer (34 assists, three blocks), Reese Devilbiss (nine kills, three aces, three blocks), Brandon Arentz (seven kills, four digs, one block), Thornton (five kills, three blocks) and Jeff Reynolds (three kills, three blocks) led the way statistically for the Bobcats.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.