EMIGSVILLE — Former Central York boys’ volleyball coach Brad Livingston had a saying about how his team prepared for every season — you don’t want to peak too early.
Seems like this year’s Panthers squad is heeding that message.
Playing well enough to win every league match this season, the Central players knew they would have to step it up a bit when they played host to four-time reigning PIAA Class 2-A state champion Northeastern in their regular-season finale.
They did just that.
The Panthers won seemingly every important point Thursday in front of a near-capacity crowd in their home gymnasium. The Bobcats had few responses, especially for Central’s Cole Johnson, who tormented the visitors all night. Johnson smacked down a match-high 17 kills, to go with four aces and seven digs, to lead the Panthers to a dominating 25-14, 25-18, 25-18 sweep.
The triumph cemented Central, who entered the showdown ranked No. 1 in Class 3-A in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll, as the No. 1 seed in next week’s York-Adams League Tournament after capping off a perfect 11-0 run through the league.
Northeastern, which dropped its first league match since falling to the Panthers in the 2014 Y-A League finals, will be the No. 2 seed after finishing 10-1. Both teams earned a bye to the semifinals that will be played Tuesday at Dallastown. Northeastern entered ranked No. 1 in the state in 2-A in the PVCA poll.
“The big crowd definitely helped us out tonight,” Central York setter Carter Luckenbaugh said. “I knew nerves were wracking up in the beginning and before the game. I think that once we started playing the game, the first couple of points and everything, we all just kind of calmed down and started playing our game.”
A lot of the game, especially early on, went through Johnson. The 6-foot, 6-inch standout was generating points from all over the court. With Johnson dominating, that left room for his fellow attackers to find the floor. Braden Richard, Drew Anderson, Ben Seebold and Luckenbaugh combined for another 17 kills as the visitors looked for ways to slow down Johnson.
“We try to use as many players as we can,” said Luckenbaugh, who dished out 26 assists. “But when you have that one player that you can rely on all the time, that truly does help.”
Johnson, a NCAA Division I-caliber recruit as a junior, felt a little bit of a difference in his team Thursday compared to other nights this season. There is little doubt that Johnson and his teammates were focused on ending their four-game league losing streak to their backyard rivals.
“Every Northeastern game is a big, big game,” he said. “It was a big crowd and it just gets us excited.”
While Central played arguably its best match of the season Thursday, Northeastern coach Matt Wilson feels his team wasn’t up to its typical high standards.
“We came out very nervous and tight and we just never settled in,” Wilson said. “I wish I could point to a player or two, but it was everybody tonight. We got some nice nights out of a few guys, but our three primary passers just didn’t have it.”
Some of the credit for that must go to Central.
“They beat us in every phase,” Wilson said. “There’s not a single phase that we had an advantage in tonight. It happened and that’s a phenomenal team on the other side of the net and they really broke us down in serve-receive. We couldn’t pass.”
Wilson’s son, Nate, led the Bobcats with nine kills, while Cole Brillhart finished with six.
League pairings set: The pairings for next week's York-Adams League Tournament have been set.
In Monday's first round at Dallastown High School, No. 4 seed York Suburban faces No. 5 seed Spring Grove at 6 p.m., while No. 3 seed Dallastown takes on No. 6 seed Red Lion at 7:30 p.m.
In the semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Suburban-Spring Grove winner will face No. 1 seed Central at Dallastown High, while the Dallastown-Red Lion winner will face Northeastern at Dallastown Middle School. The semifinal winners will meet for the tournament title at approximately 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dallastown High.
Dallastown 3, Cumberland Valley 1: At Dallastown, the Wildcats won 25-21, 19-25, 25-20, 25-23, behind Nathan Darr (11 kills, 12 digs), Avery Terroso (seven kills, 13 digs, six blocks), Ben Ward (19 kills, four blocks) and Peyton Ranck (11 digs, 45 assists). Dallastown won the JV match, 2-0.
Spring Grove 3, Lititz Christian 1: At Spring Grove, the Rockets won the match, 25-18, 27-25, 23-25, 25-14. Aaron Gunarich led the Rockets with 16 kills and four digs. Also for Spring Grove, Noah Wilson had 12 kills and four assists, Mason Staub had 18 kills, three digs and three assists and Luke Hoffnagle had 55 assists, six digs and three kills. Spring Grove won the JV match, 2-0.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.