DALLASTOWN — The dream for the seven seniors on the 2017 Central York boys’ volleyball team can be traced back to their freshman year in 2014.
Back then, many of those seven were on the bench when the Panthers capped off a terrific campaign that included York-Adams League, District 3 and PIAA titles.
The dream was pretty simple — one day that will be us.
Thursday evening at Dallastown High School, those seven — with some help for a handful of underclassmen — took another big step toward making that dream a reality.
Facing Central Dauphin in the District 3 3-A final, the Panthers looked every bit as good as their 2014 predecessors. It was by no means easy, but the Y-A League champions were able to sweep past the Rams, 29-27, 25-21, 25-16 to capture the program’s record-setting 23rd District 3 title.
The triumph also marked the third District 3 title over the past four years for Central York.
“That was goal No. 3,” Central York setter Carter Luckenbaugh said. “We checked off the division, counties and districts. Now we’re gunning for states.”
Setting for a tradition-rich program, Luckenbaugh knows he’s expected to lead his team at all times on the court. He did just that Thursday. The Panthers senior dished out 28 assists. He also tallied four kills, including the one that put his team ahead 24-16 in Game 3.
“We have a tradition here at Central York,” he said. “And that is to win championships. We were looking to make some more history today and build upon that tradition.”
On to state playoffs: Luckenbaugh is hoping that continues all the way up and through the PIAA Class 3-A final in State College on June 10. If that happens, it would be a perfect send off for Luckenbaugh and his six senior teammates.
“We’ve been dreaming about this ever since we were freshman,” he said. “We watched the Class of 2014 win counties, districts and states. And ever since then that has been our goal, to replicate that when we were seniors.”
Thursday’s outcome was a bit unexpected. It paired the top two teams in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association 3-A state poll. The Rams, ranked No. 2 in that poll, were the No. 1 seed in the district playoffs. The Panthers were conversely the No. 2 seed in districts, but ranked No. 1 in the state.
While the sweep was impressive, it took some perseverance on the part of Central York. Central Dauphin rallied back from deficits early in Game 1 before earning a series of game-points at 24-22.
After a quick timeout, the Panthers focused and did what they’ve done on several other occasions this year. They rallied back. They did it against Dallastown and York Suburban in the regular season and they did it once more against the Rams.
Braden Richard, who finished with nine kills, scored a big kill before a Central Dauphin hitting error evened the match. The Rams had another chance to close things out leading 27-26 when the Central sophomore tipped a kill over a bevy of Central Dauphin blockers.
“We just kept battling every point,” said Richard, whose brother, Darin, is one of the seven seniors on the team. “It was huge, and that really gave us the momentum going into the last two games.”
Johnson shines again: Every coach that faces Central York knows about junior standout Cole Johnson, and he didn’t disappoint Thursday. He led the Panthers with 14 kills.
“This is very relieving,” Johnson said while clutching his newly-earned district gold medal. “This (medal) is a little bigger than the last one (the Y-A League medal).”
The Panthers will begin the final portion of their quest for a state title next Tuesday at a time and location yet to be determined. They will get the No. 3 seeded team from District 1 (suburban Philadelphia).
Central Dauphin will be on the bottom half of the 16-team bracket, meaning if the Rams are to get another shot at Central York it would come in the state final. That’s definitely something that Rams coach Josh Brenneman is looking forward to.
“This was just not our night,” Brenneman said. “This is the third time we’ve played them and we’re hoping to get another chance to play them again for a fourth time in the state championship.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.