Northeastern senior standout Reese Devilbiss remembers the nerves that filled his body the first time he stepped inside Penn State University's Rec Hall three years ago for the PIAA Class AA boys' volleyball state final.
Fellow senior Matt Schaeffer felt the same angst, barely getting his first service attempt to the net before never serving again in the match.
Regardless of how they felt before and during the match, by the end of it, they were filled with pure jubilation, experiencing their first taste of state gold. Each year that's passed for Devilbiss and Schaeffer during their careers as Bobcats has finished in the same spot and in the same way — at Rec Hall with a trophy above their heads.
Needless to say, when they step onto the Rec Hall court for the fourth-and-final time as Northeastern boys' volleyball team members, those first nervous feelings won't overwhelm their bodies. Instead, they'll be filled with confidence, poise and certainty. They've been there three times before and each triumph has led to the moment that will present itself on Saturday — a chance to accomplish a feat that has rarely occurred before at the state level in any sport — a four-peat.
"It's going to be weird that it's going to be the last time playing as a Bobcat at Penn State," said Devilbiss, who will play for NCAA champion Ohio State next season. "But, we'll be ready to go and have a lot of excitement."
Cementing a legacy: While the match is a chance for this 2016 Bobcats to etch their names in history, on a much larger scale, it's about the senior class trying to finish the way it started.
For the six of them — Devilbiss, Schaeffer, Drew Landis, Chris Lee, Brandon Arentz and Jeff Reynolds — a fourth state title will simply cap off an already stellar legacy.
It's a group that goes all the way back to sixth grade. That's when most of them first started playing volleyball together. At the time, it was probably hard to see just how special a unit it would become. Some developed faster than others, with a few not cracking the varsity lineup until their sophomore years. As a whole, however, it's a group that likely won't ever be topped, based on what it's accomplished.
"It's a legacy that can be duplicated, but it can never be exceeded, if you think about it," head coach Matt Wilson said. "They have the potential to be 8 for 8 — four District (3-AA) titles and four state championship titles. Another group could do that, but no one can get more than those eight. From a lasting legacy, it's an incredible legacy that can only be possibly duplicated, but not beat."
Four years of dominance: The success of the Class of 2016 is about much more than just being the last team standing on the Rec Hall floor at season's end. It's about the pure dominance that Northeastern has shown over the years, especially over the past two seasons.
For the seniors, one more win on Saturday would put their career best-of-five match record at a staggering 90-3, with one loss coming as freshmen and two coming as sophomores, both to York-Adams League rival Central York during the year the Panthers won a Class AAA state title of their own.
Their junior and senior seasons, however, are the ones that will separate these Bobcats from any future challengers to their legacy. Over the last two seasons, besting the Bobcats in a best-of-five match isn't an option. Simply winning a game isn't either. If there's any such thing as a perfect season in best-of-five situations, Northeastern is on the brink of its second consecutive one.
"We've kept it together pretty well," Landis said. "We practice pretty hard and don't let up when we're doing our thing. It's a fun thing to do and we're like a big family, so we don't really have much trouble with chemistry."
No sign of dropping off: One of the scariest parts about the Bobcats is that, despite all of the success the program's had in the last four years, it's hard to imagine a substantial drop off taking place.
In several matches this year, when Northeastern has been ahead by a significant margin, Wilson has actually removed many of his starters and turned to his bench and underclassmen to finish the job. When they've taken over, there still wasn't a struggle to close out the match. Instead, the second unit simply picked up where the first unit left off.
So, should we expect that, after this year, the Bobcats will come back to earth and not be nearly as dominant as they have been? Well, simply stated, we shouldn't.
"We always have trust in our coaching staff," Schaeffer said. "And I know they won't fail our program, just like they didn't fail (the seniors). I think you gotta trust in them and they'll bring the same intensity with (the underclassmen) as they did with us."
One final match: Before the 2013 season, Northeastern had won three state titles in program history. With one more win on Saturday, the senior class will have surpassed that total just in their four-year careers.
The Bobcat seniors have always kept a level head and never looked too far ahead. It was always about the next match, as cliché as it sounds.
Now, there is only one more match for them and it'll be the most important one of their careers.
"We've put so much work the past six years playing volleyball into these moments," Devilbiss said. "And the fact that we could get four in a row would be just amazing."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: The PIAA Class AA boys' volleyball state championship match.
When: 11 a.m. Saturday.
Where: Penn State's Rec Hall.
Who: District 3 champion Northeastern (22-0) vs. District 7 runner-up Ambridge (17-3)
On the Web: For live Twitter updates from the game, along with a game story, photos and video shortly after the final whistle, visit yorkdispatch.com.
Notes: The Bobcats, who are ranked No. 1 in the state in AA by the Pennsylvania Coaches Volleyball Association, will be chasing their fourth straight AA state championship. Ambridge, which last won a state title in 2009. is ranked No. 4. ... During their four-year title run, Northeastern is 90-3 in best-of-five matches and has not lost even a single game in best-of-five matches the last two years.