It's not really much of a secret that the York-Adams League is a hotbed for high school boys’ volleyball.
Four-time reigning PIAA Class 2-A state champion Northeastern may well be the state’s premier program — in Class 2-A or 3-A — these days. Other teams, such as Central York, Red Lion, Dallastown and York Suburban, have also been at or near the top of the state rankings at times over the past decade.
So it should come as no surprise that the success in high school has also translated to the club level as well.
Club volleyball, however, is measured on a different, and much higher level, than its high school counterpart. Elite club teams typically travel all over the nation to compete against the best of the best from all areas of North America.
One club team in particular, the Yorktowne Volleyball Club’s 18 Blue Team, is hoping to demonstrate to a national audience just how outstanding local players are. The team, headed by current Central Dauphin boys’ volleyball coach Josh Brenneman, is ranked No. 3 out of 324 teams in the 18-and-under category.
All 11 players on the roster hail from District 3 schools, including four from York County — Central York junior Cole Johnson, Central York senior Zak Kakos, Northeastern junior Cole Brillhart and Dallastown senior Peyton Ranck, whose father, Lance, is an assistant coach under Brenneman. The rest of the team is made up of four players from Central Dauphin, one from Lower Dauphin, one from Hempfield and one from Schuylkill Valley.
Getting D-I looks: While Brillhart and Johnson are just juniors, those two have drawn the attention of many big-time Division I college coaches during some recent elite club tournaments. Both are expected to be big factors over the next two high school seasons as well.
“It was crazy,” said Lance Ranck, who stepped down as the head coach at Dallastown this summer. “Every Division I coach that you could think of … USC, UCLA, Pepperdine … Midwest coaches like Ohio State and Penn State. They were all there (at the tournaments) to see Cole Johnson and Cole Brillhart play.”
This year figures to be the year that Johnson steps up to take over as the face of the Central York program, Ranck said. He suffered a knee injury during the club season before his sophomore year with the Panthers. He also played behind Hayden Wagner, who now plays at the Division I level at George Mason University.
“Cole (Johnson) is certainly a Division I-caliber kid,” Ranck said. “He’s going to be a man among boys next season. He’s absolute legit. He’s 6-7 and he’s absolutely thunderous when he hits. He plays a dual role for us … he hits front row and sets back row. So when he’s in the back row he’s like (former Northeastern standouts) Luke Braswell and when he’s in the front row he’s like Stephen (Braswell).”
Brillhart moves to Northeastern: Brillhart, who was a dominant force the past two years at Red Lion, moved into the Northeastern school district late last year. He’s expected to step into part of the role that Reese Devilbiss, who is now at Ohio State, left after leading the Bobcats to four-straight PIAA titles.
“Cole B is the center of the team,” Ranck said. “He hits, blocks and passes out of serve-receive. He is by far the most consistent player we have at every skill.”
Part of the team’s high ranking stems from outstanding success this year in regional tournaments. The team finished second at a tournament in Rochester, New York, tied for fifth at big tournament in California and tied for third at another big tournament at Indianapolis. All three finishes earned the team an automatic berth into the 32-team national tournament this July in Columbus, Ohio.
While all three finishes were outstanding in their own right, the one in California was of particular importance. Playing against the best teams in Southern California, the Yorktowne club was the only non-Southern California team to crack into the top-level Gold Bracket.
“We were one of the first East Coast teams to do that,” Ranck said. “And it’s the first time a Yorktowne team had ever made it (to the Gold Bracket) there. That’s traditionally a Southern California/Northern California type of a bracket.”
Chance for revenge: While the club season is quickly coming to an end for the winter, the Yorktowne team still has one more tournament coming up this weekend in Harrisburg at the Farm Show Arena before the high school season begins. That event will include the team, Eden Mizuno 18, that beat Yorktowne in the finals at Rochester.
“Our game has gotten a lot better since we played them last,” Ranck said. “So we’re looking forward to seeing them again.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.