SPORTS Q&A: Senior Matt Thornton reflects on Northeastern's third straight state title
When the fire trucks carrying the victorious PIAA Class AA state champion Northeastern boys' volleyball team made their way through Manchester Saturday evening, it was very special to all the players and coaches.
But if may have been a little more special to one person in particular — Bobcat senior Matt Thornton.
Sure, it was Thornton's third time aboard the convoy of champions. But this was the first one in which Thornton played a big role.
The middle hitter finished with two kills and three blocks to help his team to a record-setting 25-9, 25-22, 25-12 victory over Saegertown Saturday in State College.
So as Thornton waved his hands at the Northeastern fans who lined the street to celebrate the program's third state title in a row, he savored the feeling.
We caught up with Thornton, who plans to attend North Carolina-Charlotte in the fall, to discuss his volleyball career, his future and a number of other things for this edition of Sports Q&A.
Q: Now that 24 hours have passed since the victory, what are your emotions and thoughts on everything that happened Saturday?
A: "It feels good. We drove through the town where our school is and we were in fire trucks. And that's pretty unreal. And to do it for a third time in a row is just an unbelievable feeling at this point."
Q: What was your favorite moment from Saturday?
A: "I'd have to say riding the fire trucks. When you're sitting up there and going through town, you just sort of notice that you just won the state championship and that everyone recognizes you. That's just a really cool feeling."
Q: Was this time more special since you were one of the starters on the team?
A: "Yeah, I think it was. Last year I was sitting on the bench. Now every year is special, but it's just that this year I felt like I was more involved. Last year I was Casey Winand's backup and I was still having fun, but this year was definitely a lot more exciting being on the court and being a part of it."
Q: Did you guys do anything extra to celebrate other than riding those fire trucks?
A: "Every year the day after states we have an outdoor doubles tournament and that's our way of celebrating. I played with Drew Landis. We did pretty good. I think we finished in the semifinals of the tournament. They're still playing right now, but Drew had to go to work, so I went home. But our whole team plays and it's pretty fun."
Q: So who were the teams?
A: "Reese (Devilbiss) played with Chris Lee, Phil (White) played with Matt Schaeffer, Nic Destevens played with Wyatt Holder, Jeff Reynolds played with Brandon Arentz."
Q: Who was the best team out of the bunch?
A: "Phil and Matt were undefeated and I believe Chris and Reese were right behind them."
Q: What was your perspective of the final point of the match Saturday? Did you get a part of that block?
A: "No, it was just Phil by himself. But when we were up at the net, we knew it was going to come out to No. 5 (Alex Barclay). So I said to Phil, 'hey, you know it's going to come out here.' And Phil just said, 'yeah, let's block this kid.' It was definitely an unreal thing. I had a feeling that he was going to get it and he got it and that was pretty cool."
Q: How tough was it for you to be a backup the past two years?
A: "It was pretty tough. Now Casey Winand was an effective middle. So being his backup, I knew I had big shoes to fill when he would leave. I knew that I would have to be just as effective. So it was tough trying to keep up, but it was fun because it was challenging at the same time."
Q: How do you get through that? Was it just you having to believe that next year is mine?
A: "I didn't know it was mine because I knew I had to compete for it, but you just have to keep trying and keep pushing forward. Yeah you're going to get some playing time here and there and playing time is what makes you better, so the little time that you get, you have to make the most out of it and try your hardest. And that's what got me through it ... just trying my hardest. And I knew if I did that I would get my playing time at some point."
Q: There were four other seniors that really didn't get much of an opportunity to start. How difficult was it for them?
A: "It had to be really tough. I mean, all of us seniors are fantastic players. They helped us all in practice on the other side of the court hitting, blocking. Now I guarantee that had to be tough for them. I was in the same situation as them last year when I sat on the bench. And I give them a lot of credit because they were there supporting us and cheering every moment of it."
Q: Who are you most going to miss on the team?
A: "I think I'm going to miss Phil the most. We had a really tight bond. To both be seniors and playing up front all those years we just developed a tight bond. Now I'm going to miss everybody, but probably Phil the most. I would know where he was going to be to set up a block so I could get over. We just had that kind of chemistry."
A: What is Reese like as a person?
Q: "Reese is really cool. Some people might think he's quiet and everything but he's not. He's just like everybody else. He'll talk and tell stories and stuff. He's a very nice person and everything like that. He's not arrogant. He worked hard for where he's at. He worked hard in off seasons, middle school, all the way up through. He's just all-year, everything volleyball."
Q: Did you play any other sports?
A: "Yeah, when I was real small, probably 5 or 6, I played soccer. I played up until my sophomore year. But I kind of got out of it. I was getting hurt a lot. I had a broken nose and stuff like that. But then I started to notice that I was really liking volleyball a little more and started leaning toward that. After that I quit soccer and just started only playing volleyball."
Q: When did you start playing volleyball?
A: "I started late, in my eighth-grade year. Some of the other seniors were a year ahead of me when I started. I knew people were playing it in middle school, but I just wasn't sure. It's just like everything in life. People are scared (to play) because they don't think they're going to do good and, yeah, that's true. The first time you play you're not going to play as good as everybody else. So I just came out and tried it and I liked it and stuck with it."
Q: Coach (Matt) Wilson said Saturday after the game that he kind of cozied up to this team more than he did with teams in the past. Did you get a sense of that at all?
A: "We had a practice Friday night before the game on Saturday and I think he was more relaxed that night than he was in the past. We kind of had a scrimmage for a little bit, where as before he was all about drills and drills and stuff like that. So Friday he was a bit more relaxed and he did that even throughout the season and that kind of relaxed us as a team. I think he trusted us a lot and I think that's why he was able to have one of those relaxed practices right before the state championship match."
Q: From a fan's perspective that is hard to tell, especially when he's yelling at the team like he did in the York Suburban match (during districts). So he doesn't really give off the vibe that he will put up with a lot of nonsense, right?
A: "Yeah, he won't put up with that. We know what we need to do and if we're not doing what we need to do, he's there to remind us. And that's good because we do need someone to help us get to where we need to be."
Q: What's the biggest lesson you learned from playing volleyball?
A: "I think it's the discipline thing. For soccer you never really had to dress up for games, but, for volleyball, every time you would go to a game you had to dress in a shirt and tie. And that kind of makes sense because you don't want to look like you're not totally about business going into a match. And I think that how you're perceived it really important. Even for jobs, you want to look your best going in there so you let them know that you mean business and this is what you want to do."
Q: So what's the future look like for you? Are you going to college? Playing volleyball?
A: "Yeah, I'm going to college. I'm actually going to UNC-Charlotte for motorsport engineering, to deal with race cars and that sort of stuff. Now they don't really have a men's volleyball team, but they do have a women's. But they do have intramural and stuff like that. So I might stay active in it."
Q: Are you related to family that owns Thornton Chevrolet there in Manchester?
A: "Yeah that's us. My dad's cousin owns it so that would be my second cousin. My dad and I both work at the Chevy store so we've both stayed involved."
Q: So the motorsports ... what kind of racing are you looking to be involved with?
A: "I'm very involved with the Indy Car and stuff like that. I'm a person that is more about how things work, like with the engines and the suspensions and stuff like that. So I'm into how it works and that's why I want to go down there because they have their own race team and they build their own cars and race them and stuff like that."
Q: So do you have any aspirations to be a driver someday?
A: "Yeah, at points. I just am not sure about what I would want to be a driver of, be it NASCAR or Indy Car. At one point I wanted to actually be in professional motocross because I was big into racing ATVs and stuff like that at one point. I've always been involved with racing and that's just something that's always interested me."
Q: Finally, what's the most memorable moment of this season?
A: "I'd have to say Senior Night (vs. West York). We have six seniors and we didn't get to play with each other very many times at all. So for that night we got to play as a senior class and produce and play well. That was just so cool. I'll always remember that one."
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.