Over the past several years, the York County volleyball scene has been dominated by Central York and Northeastern.
And rightfully so, considering the Bobcats are in the midst of a dynasty at the Class AA level with three straight state championships, and the Panthers are only two years removed from a state title of their own in AAA in 2014. But, at some point, all great things must end. That doesn't seem to be happening to Northeastern, at least this year. The Bobcats appear well on their way to a state title four-peat,
Central, however, might get a run for its money as York County's second-best boys' volleyball team.
Enter the York Suburban Trojans, a program with a strong history that sometimes gets lost in the shadows because it doesn't possess the same success at the state level as the Bobcats and Panthers. However, it's been years since expectations surrounding the Trojans were this high. Suburban was ranked No. 5 in the state at the Class AA level in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
"We only lost two seniors last year and we had some ups-and-downs last year, but we felt we were going to build upon that," Suburban head coach Jamie Evans said. "We thought we had a pretty strong team, and consistent through all the positions, and we were looking for a good season ahead."
Much of the attention surrounding Suburban began back in February, when the team placed seventh out of 50 teams at the North Atlantic National Club Championships. That result served as the baseline for how the Trojans would be graded going forward. In reality, however, their real test wouldn't begin until this spring, when they would compete against Northeastern and Central. They would then see how they stacked up head-to-head against two of the best teams in the state.
Beating Central York: Well, last Thursday was the first of those meetings and Suburban passed the test. Hosting the Panthers, the Trojans rallied from losing the first game of the match and earned a 3-1 victory over the state's No. 5 team in Class AAA. Every game of the match was tightly contested, but losing a close match wouldn't have done Suburban any justice in terms of outside perception. If it wanted to earn respect around the York-Adams League, District 3 and the state, it needed a victory. And that's what it got.
"(Northeastern coach) Matt Wilson has a quote about, 'If you can win in York, you can win in the state,'" Evans said. "Our league is so incredibly tough and Central and Northeastern have set the standard and the rest of us are trying to reach up to that level. So, when you play both of those teams, you're always looking to fight hard and knock off the big guys and it's huge for us, for confidence, and to gain a little respect."
Excelling at Bobcat Invitational: Then over the weekend, the Trojans had the opportunity to test themselves on a state level, with several of the top-ranked programs in Pennsylvania at the Bobcat Invitational. After going 2-2 in group play, Suburban was relegated to the silver bracket, where it wound up winning four straight one-game matches to win the bracket. Overall, the Trojans went 6-3 against, perhaps, the toughest tournament field they will see until the state competition.
Another positive step for a team looking to make a name for itself.
"We were just a few points away from qualifying for the championship bracket," Evans said. "...There's still top-ranked teams in the silver division and it just shows how tough the competition is, so we were glad to get extra matches in and perform well, whether it was bronze, silver or gold, we were right there with all the teams."
The last time Suburban ever tasted victory at any level came in 2012, when it won the Y-A League regular-season and playoff crowns and District 3-AA championship. The Trojans eventually finished as runner-up in the state tournament that year, a program best. Before that, you'd then have to go back more than a decade to find the last time Suburban captured any of those crowns, and that was just at the league level. That isn't to say the Trojans haven't seen postseason success, however. They still qualified for the District 3 playoffs the last five years, but ran into the Bobcats' buzz saw in several of those seasons, ending their campaigns.
This year's team just has a different feel to it than in recent seasons. Led by the duo of Jack Schultz and Sepehr Vakili, Suburban has the players to compete with any team at any level.
There's still a long way to go for the Trojans to continue to prove themselves, first on a local level, and then in districts and potentially states. But, if the early season is any indication, this year's outfit has the qualities to make this a long and memorable campaign.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org