STATE COLLEGE — Six miles separate Northeastern and Central York high schools.
On a good day, with no traffic, you can go from one to the other in a little more than 10 minutes.
That short drive also connects the two schools that are now home to the two best boys' volleyball teams in the state of Pennsylvania.
After both Northeastern and Central York captured their respective state championships on Saturday at Penn State's Rec Hall, there is no longer an argument about which region or county is the best when it comes to boys' high school volleyball in the state.
York County owns that title, and it has the trophies to back up that claim. The two teams have now combined for 15 PIAA titles, eight for Northeastern and seven for Central.
"I always coined the phrase that, 'If you can win in York County, you can win anywhere,'" Bobcats' head coach Matt Wilson said. "Our home league is as competitive as anywhere in the state and there's a couple teams that probably aren't up here today that, if a couple things go their way, they could've been. For us to be watching Central York up here, who is our biggest rival, there's some satisfaction in seeing them up here with us."
The Bobcats won their fifth consecutive Class 2-A title with a four-game win over Beaver County Christian. Just a couple hours later, the Panthers earned their second state crown in four years by winning in the same number of games over North Allegheny.
The expectations were that both would win. Both teams entered the championship matches ranked No. 1 in the state in their respective classes. State gold medals aren't won on paper, and both teams had to prove their worthiness. Awaiting them were a pair of challengers more than capable of being crowned state champions, but when it came down to the play on the court, both Northeastern and Central York showcased their superiority.
Dethroning the Bobcats: If there was ever a year that the top schools in 2-A felt they could put an end to the Bobcats' dominance, this had to be it.
After graduating its entire starting lineup from last year's team that didn't lose a game the entire season, Northeastern was essentially starting from scratch going into the year. However, there's a mentality, nay, a culture, when it comes to playing volleyball for the Bobcats, and this year's group wasn't going to let inexperience at the varsity level hold them back from continuing the program's tradition of excellence.
So, while the season as a whole wasn't as dominant as the last couple years, with actual losses, both in games and matches, sprinkled in, the end result was the same.
What's scary now for the rest of the state is that, of the core group that contributed to this year's state crown, all but two will return next year.
"Now that we got this one under our belt, being a young team, now we know what we have to do to get better," freshman Nate Wilson said. "We're going to keep improving to keep the streak going."
Getting back to winning: The last time both Central York and Northeastern swept the state titles was in 2014. Since then, the Bobcats have kept up with their excellence, but the Panthers dipped ever so slightly.
After bowing out in the first round of districts last year, this season's team was on a mission to get back to the top. The state title was the cherry on top of a season filled with dominance, one that included championships in the York-Adams League, District 3 3-A playoffs and PIAA Class 3-A tournament.
The various levels of success don't go unnoticed by anyone around Central, either. Everyone within the program knows the difficulty that is presented in the Y-A League and District 3.
"I think both Northeastern and us are at distinct advantages when we go into postseason play just because of the quality of competition we play during the year," Panthers' head coach Todd Goodling said. "...I think one of the great things about PIAA volleyball and, in particular, Y-A volleyball, is the quality and longevity of coaching staffs. I think it's that continuity that makes the league so strong and the teams we get to play make us better in postseason play."
Northeastern and Central York were hardly the only two teams worthy of competing for state titles from York County, either. Both York Suburban and Dallastown were ranked inside the top 10 of the state rankings in their respective classes for much of the year.
When next season rolls around, there will be a new batch of teams from all across Pennsylvania who think they have what it takes to win a state gold medal.
In order to do so, however, they'll need to go through the best that York County has to offer, which will include more teams than just Northeastern and Central York.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org