There's a mentality with Northeastern boys' volleyball that, whether it wins or loses a game in a match, it'll make things as difficult as possible on its opponent.
York Suburban knows that first hand, having faced the Bobcats on three separate occasions during the regular season, only once taking games off of Northeastern. Both came in a five-game loss to Northeastern in York-Adams League play.
On Friday night, in the District 3 2-A championship game, the Trojans got a fourth crack at the Bobcats and got another taste at how quickly things can go from positive to gloomy against the most dominant boys' volleyball program in Pennsylvania.
Just two points away from taking the second game and leveling the match at a game a piece, just the smallest of mental lapses by fifth-seeded York Suburban cost it everything. Before the Trojans really even knew what happened, they blew the second game, then the match and were lining up to collect their silver medals, losers in straight games to the Bobcats, 25-18, 26-24, 25-14. It was the fifth consecutive district title for No. 2 Northeastern.
"For us, it's just a mentality of just keep plugging away," Bobcats' head coach Matt Wilson said. "Don't look at the scoreboard. Play every play as if it's the last play and they did a great job of doing that tonight and Game 2 was pretty evident of a team that...the one thing this team has, they have grit. They don't make it look pretty, but they have grit."
There's a turning point in every match and that came in the second game.
After Northeastern ended the first game on a 17-9 scoring run to go up 1-0, Suburban looked like it was poised to make this a match. The Trojans came out strong, erased an early Bobcats' lead in Game 2 and were well on their way from evening up things. Leading 23-20, all they needed were two points to close out the second game.
Instead, Northeastern dug deepest and found its winning mentality, taking six of the next seven points to steal the second game and get well on its way to a sweep.
"I thought (losing the second game) was going to fuel us a little bit," Suburban coach Jamie Evans said. "But, they got a few points on us early in the third game and just kind of got in our heads right there at the beginning and then you're fighting back the whole third game and against a team like that is tough."
Before the Trojans really even knew what happened, they were down by eight points in the third game and that deficit quickly ballooned up to double digits before one final miscue at the net allowed the championship point to fall for the Bobcats.
Not only was the win the fifth consecutive district crown for Northeastern, but it was the sixth out of the seventh for the program, with only Suburban halting what could be seven in a row for the Bobcats.
And no matter how many you've been a part of, the feeling never gets old, with each team poised to make its own mark.
"Every year is like a new start," junior Cole Brillhart said. "So, every year we come in like nothing happened before, so every year we get that motivation to get the next one."
Brillhart was one of the major reasons why things flowed so smoothly for Northeastern on Friday night, finishing with 10 kills. He was only bested by fellow junior Nate Eyster, who had 11. Jacob Cheuvront finished the night with 38 assists and five digs.
For the Trojans, little went their way, outside of the second game. They were led by Jack Schultz' nine kills, while Zach Weinstein and Noah Chojnacki each had 11 assists. Weinstein also had 12 digs and Nate Bowman had 10.
Both teams will now begin the state tournament next week, where the Bobcats enter as four-time reigning state champions, as well.
The win in dominating fashion was key for Northeastern because, according to Wilson, the team hasn't been performing at a level Wilson knows it's capable of performing.
"We have not played well lately," he said. "I'm very blunt about that. We have not been very good. We haven't been very good in the practice sessions. We haven't finished practices well. I've been warning them and I think Cocalico giving us a little bit of a sting the other night, I think they finally got the message that, we can't just put the uniform on anymore. It's more than the uniform. It's the guys in the uniform and, tonight, the young men that wore the uniform made our community very proud and we can be very happy because they came to play tonight."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org