STATE COLLEGE — Northeastern boys' volleyball head coach Matt Wilson has never really encouraged his players to be boastful.
Humility is the team mindset.
Even Wilson, however, didn't mind if his senior players were a little boastful on Saturday afternoon.
After all, his Bobcat seniors had accomplished something that can never be bettered.
Northeastern won its fourth straight PIAA Class AA state title with a 25-21, 25-19, 25-15 triumph over Ambrdge at Penn State's Rec Hall.
"I'm OK, as graduating seniors, if they beat their chests a little bit," Wilson said. "Shed a little bit of the humbleness. They are fantastic."
After winning every District 3-AA and PIAA Class AA title during their four-year careers, no future class can best that mark. They can only match it. Best of all, no one can ever take that away from the Bobcat seniors..
"We set out on a mission that is, quite frankly, easy to say, but hard to accomplish," Wilson said. "For me, at the moment, I'm emotionally a bit numb, but still extremely jubilant."
The same can be said of the Bobcats. While not dominating their opponent in the same way they did during the first two rounds of the state playoffs, Northeastern still led comfortably throughout en route to a 3-0 sweep.
The Bridgers, who have now lost to the Bobcats in the state title game in three of the last four years, rallied back from a 19-9 deficit in Game 1 to throw a little scare into the champs. Wilson called a timeout after Ambridge drew within 23-18 to try to get his team back on track.
More often than not, when Wilson calls a timeout, it's to chew out his squad. Senior standout Reese Devilbiss termed those timeout sessions a "red Wilson".
But this one was different.
"It wasn't a 'red Wilson,'" said Devilbiss, who smashed home a game-best 21 kills in the victory. "This was more a 'c'mon guys' thing."
The Bridgers still managed to win three of the next four points to close within 24-21 before Jeff Reynolds (10 kills) ended Game 1 with a big block.
Devilbiss has been called the best volleyball player to ever come from York County by Wilson. Despite that fact, the coach has mentioned that there were times during the playoffs when Devilbiss has taken a back seat. That was somewhat the case Saturday, when the Northeastern coaches felt they had an advantage in the middle with Reynolds and Dakoda Hoffman.
But it was Ohio State recruit Devilbiss who took over in Game 2. The American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American tallied 10 kills and a block in Game 2 to help his team get back into its groove.
Perhaps the player the most emblematic of the team's humility, Devilbiss never complained about his touches. It was all about winning, according to Wilson.
"It's his understanding of 'this is what we're after,'" Wilson said, pointing to his gold medal. "And he'll say it ... 'do it until you need me.' And that is a part of the fabric of Reese Devilbiss."
After taking a 2-0 lead in the match, the Bobcats stepped on the gas in Game 3. They never allowed the Bridgers to get close after grabbing a 7-2 lead early on.
While it would have been fitting for Devilbiss to slam home the final kill on match point, it instead was Brandon Arentz, a player who is equally deserving of such an honor. Moving from different positions (libero, defensive specialist, outside hitter) over his time in the program, Arentz was the one to knock down the final kill of the day, setting off another celebration on the floor at Rec Hall.
Or, as Arentz likes to call it, his team's third home.
"That was probably one of the only times I've ever called for the ball," said Arentz, who finished with six kills. "Usually I don't demand the ball, but I was looking to get past the block and got the point. Then the celebration was surreal."
It didn't take long for the Bobcats on the bench and court to huddle together to celebrate. For some of them — such Reynolds, Arentz and Devilbiss — it marked the last time that they'll ever get to do that together as a team.
Wilson knows that. Pointing to the six seniors -— three to his left and three to his right — Wilson shared his true feelings with them.
“You're the best, ever," he said. "And you're some of the greatest ever.”
Setter Matt Schaeffer finished with 38 assists while libero Chris Lee tallied eight digs to lead the Northeastern defense.