In the York-Adams League, a lot of focus, understandably, tends to fall upon the Central York and Northeastern boys’ volleyball programs.
With numerous league, District 3 and PIAA state titles between them, the success of the Panthers and Bobcats is the standard by which other local programs judge themselves.
One of those programs is Red Lion. Coming off a season in which the Lions finished tied for fifth in the 12-team league, there is a sense of optimism surrounding the squad.
Some of it starts with new head coach Rick Tarbert. A longtime club coach for girls’ volleyball at Yorktowne, as well as an assistant for the past four years with the Red Lion girls, Tarbert is hoping his team is able to take another step up the York-Adams pecking order this spring.
“I feel that we have a lot of talent,” Tarbert said. “We’ve had about 10 open gyms and I’ve definitely seen some exciting stuff happen.”
Part of the talent that Tarbert discussed includes a pair of seniors in Dillon Hildebrand and Bennett Frey. Those two, however, are just a part of a half-dozen seniors who are looking to build off a York-Adams League playoff berth a season ago.
“You can tell that they like the game,” Tarbert said. “There’s a lot of energy and excitement. I’m one that is always pushing for a faster tempo, and that’s been a bit of a struggle during open gyms. But I think we’re going to get there.”
Hildebrand, Frey and Cole Brillhart figure to form the strength of the squad this year on the front line. With a pair of setters in John Longnecker and Levi Davis battling for a starting role, the line and, in particular, the attack, will likely spearhead how far the Lions can go.
“Obviously Northeastern and Central are going to be our top competitors,” Tarbert said. “But if we handle everybody else the way that we should, we should be right up there and in the running for districts.”
Here’s a look at some of the other contenders in the York-Adams League.
Northeastern: The Bobcats are the clear favorites to repeat as league champions. Winners of three straight PIAA Class AA state titles, the Manchester boys return nearly all of their key starters from a season ago.
The focus starts with senior standout Reese Devilbiss. An Ohio State recruit, the three-time all-state selection may be the most dominant outside hitter in Pennsylvania.
Devilbiss, by himself, might make a team an automatic state title contender. But the Bobcats will have four other all-state players returning for their senior seasons. Setter Matt Schaeffer, libero Chris Lee, middle hitter Jeff Reynolds and outsider hitter Brandon Arentz are all back.
The only hole in Northeastern’s lineup is the spot that was occupied by Philip White. The versatility of Devilbiss and Arentz, who are both very good defenders, will make up for a lot of White’s absence.
Perhaps the biggest worry for Coach Matt Wilson is keeping his team focused. He cited an example from 2011.
“We were the defending state champs and we pretty much rode the No. 1 spot all year long,” he said. “Then we show up at 9 a.m. at State College, and the day before we were unbeatable. But then a few short hours later we put forth one of the less memorable performances in that senior class’ career. Now we were still able to go five games, but we were ultimately edged out by a very good Deer Lakes team, who went on to win the state championship.”
Central York: While the program has a new head coach (Todd Goodling), the Panthers don’t figure to lose a beat.
Even after losing three all-state players to graduation, the defending District 3-AAA champs figure to again be contenders when the playoffs begin in May.
Much like Northeastern, Central will have a formidable go-to player on the front line in senior Hayden Wagner. A George Mason recruit, the 6-foot-5 Wagner figures to be a difficult threat to neutralize on the attack. Given his size, his ability to block will be an invaluable asset as well.
Setter Carter Luckenbaugh, a junior, will lead the offense. Luckenbaugh, however, will have to look for ways to get some new faces involved in the attack. Front-line players Jeremiah Dadeboe, Landon Shorts and Jason Gardner all graduated.
Fortunately for the Panthers, the head-to-head showdown with Northeastern will, as has become custom, be played on the last day of the regular season. That suits Goodling just fine.
“We will have many coaching concerns,” Goodling said. “But we will not run the risk of peaking too early. That will not be one of them.”
Goodling feels confident that his team is on track to meet its No. 1 goal — making the state tournament.
“Our goal is never to win the state championship,” he said. “It’s about preparing to play against the best teams in the state. I think it’s unique to this program and I think it’s unique to Northeastern’s program, and I think it’s why we’re both successful.”
York Suburban: The Trojans tied with Red Lion in the league standings a season ago at 6-5. They, too, are hoping to elevate themselves back into the elite after claiming the league title four years ago.
The duo of Sepehr Vakili and Jack Schultz will look to lead Coach Jamie Evans’ club this season. The Trojans are coming off a strong club season, in which their team was ranked seventh at the 50-team North Atlantic National Club Championships.
For Evans, his team isn’t accepting that they are fighting for third place, behind Northeastern and Central. He’s excited to see the passion of his team, which is embodied by Vakili, as well as the effort they are putting into becoming a contender.
“We work hard in our gym,” Evans said. “That’s all that we can do. We can’t control what other schools are doing, but we can control what’s going on in our gym.”
Having a player with the passion of Vakili never hurts, either.
“I quit soccer (for volleyball),” he said. “I did. Sophomore year I stopped playing soccer because I wanted to train for volleyball. And it took over my life in a positive way.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.