Familiar foe stands between Northeastern and a third straight AA state boys' volleyball title
Matt Wilson is one of the top high school boys' volleyball coaches in Pennsylvania.
No one can really argue that point, considering Wilson has led his Northeastern High School program to three PIAA Class AA titles overall, including the last two straight, as well as numerous District 3 and York-Adams League crowns.
As it turns out, however, Wilson is a pretty good prognosticator, too.
That was evidenced by the decision that he and his coaching staff came up with this winter to add Saegertown to the 2015 schedule. The preseason favorites in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association AA poll, the Panthers were efficiently swept in the season opener by Northeastern. The Bobcats have remained atop the coaches poll ever since.
Saegertown, however, will get a chance for some payback come Saturday. The Bobcats and Panthers have an 11 a.m. showdown at Penn State's Rec Hall for the 2015 AA state title.
For Wilson, it's not big surprise that the season will end with the same two teams who started it battling for supremacy.
"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."
The Bobcats cruised to a 25-19, 25-20, 25-21 victory back in March on the District 10 champion's home court in northwestern Pennsylvania. While that match allowed Northeastern to retake the No. 1 poll position from that point on, it may not be a great indicator of what to expect Saturday. Both teams have progressed a great deal since that contest, which should add some intrigue to the state final.
Just don't expect it to be the same type of match the second time around.
"I don't think much (can be taken from that game), to be honest with you," Wilson said. "I think that they've gotten far better, which I'm not surprised with at all. All we're trying to do is familiarize ourselves with their personnel and try to make some adjustments from there."
Panthers are big: The Panthers feature a pair of returning all-state attackers in twins Alex and Brendon Barclay. Those two combined for 18 kills in their semifinal victory over Obama Academy on Tuesday.
Wilson sounded a bit worried about a potential mismatch that the Panther attackers could use against his team Saturday.
"They're going to be a little bigger than we are," Wilson said. "Especially on the outside with those two twins, who are 6-4 or so. They also have a 6-6 middle (Joey Reynolds) and another 6-3 middle (Peter Mattocks), who's an athletic middle."
While that may be true, the real challenge Saturday will be in how Saegertown attempts to bottle-up a multi-faceted Northeastern attack.
Take junior Reese Devilbiss, for instance. The two-time all-state outside hitter is one of the best players in the state at putting balls away on the attack. The role for the Ohio State recruit, however, has actually relaxed a good bit as the season progressed.
Instead of getting the ball to Devilbiss on every attack, setter Matt Schaeffer has grown adept at finding the hot attacker at the right time. Sometimes that means that senior Philip White will get the majority of attempts, as he did in Tuesday's semifinal victory over Holy Redeemer (14 kills). Other times that could be either of the middle hitters, Jeff Reynolds or Matt Thornton, or even outside attacker Brandon Arentz.
Wherever the ball goes Saturday, the Panthers will have to be ready for it.
Arentz coming up big: Speaking of Arentz, Wilson had some nice things to say about the often overlooked junior. Arentz, who was an all-state selection a year ago as a libero, may not have the most kills or blocks or even digs, but he seems to have a knack for getting the big ones when needed in a match.
"We were just having a conversation about Brandon Arentz (Wednesday) night," Wilson said. "It just seems like time after time in the big matches that Philip White gets a lot of attention and recognition, and rightfully so. As does Reese and our setter. But Brandon has been flying under the radar. Brandon takes care of the little things and there's a lot of little things that, if not done by him, we're probably not in a state championship situation.
"And he's one of our best passers from the serve-receive. There's a reason why he was an all-state libero last year. His serve reception in the state finals against Ambridge was phenomenal. His defensive efforts last year and into this year are probably one of the best in (the York-Adams) league. With his style and level of play, without it, I do not believe that we would be where we are today."
Lee and Landis are emotional leaders: While the caliber of play on the court is undeniably high from all the Bobcats' players, another overlooked element to their success can't be found on a stat sheet at all — emotion.
Wilson definitely can supply some of that himself, especially if he senses his team is trending off course. But the emotion exuded from the duo of Chris Lee and Drew Landis can't be underestimated in terms of building momentum at key points during matches.
"Those two bring the emotional side," Wilson said. "We saw it last year in the state finals and at points this year. Drew Landis possesses one of the best float serves that I've seen ... and he's very aggressive with it. And he's a phenomenal defender. And Chris Lee is similar.
"But at the end of the day, the one thing they both bring is that emotional outburst that we need. Reese isn't going to bring that verbal outburst. He's just steady and leads by example. But those two guys lead, not only by example, but from the emotional side. When they make big plays, the guys start having a lot of fun."
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.