MECHANICSBURG — A lot of things need to go right for any opponent to knock off the five-time defending PIAA Class 2-A boys’ volleyball champions from Northeastern.
For the Palmyra Cougars, Tuesday was not that night at Cumberland Valley High School.
After giving the Bobcats a run for their money in the first set of the PIAA 2-A semifinal, the defending champs put their foot down on any ideas that Palmyra had of pulling off what surely would have been an historic upset.
Northeastern’s bevy of prolific attackers and their underrated defense eventually wore down the Cougars as the match progressed. Lewis University recruit Cole Brillhart led the way for his team with a team-high nine kills as the Bobcats advanced to their sixth consecutive PIAA 2-A final with a 25-22, 25-11, 25-18 victory.
Northeastern (22-0), which claimed the York-Adams League and District 3 2-A titles already, will face District 3 2-A runner-up Manheim Central in the final at 11 a.m. Saturday at Penn State's Rec Hall.
“We talked about it before the game,” Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said of the tough sledding in Set 1. “We expected an emotional storm, so to speak. Look, (Palmyra) is a great team. You don’t get to this point without being great.”
The third-seed from District 3 and the No. 3 overall team in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association 2-A poll, the Cougars had many of the traits necessary to give Wilson’s team a fight. To its credit, Palmyra made some adjustments that seemed to throw Wilson’s team off-balance at points in the opening set.
“They came out and did a lot of nice things,” Wilson said. “So we had to make some adjustments. But I do think that once we settled down and played a little bit cleaner, things started going our way.”
While the Northeastern attackers draw most of the attention on any given night, Wilson pointed toward his defense as a key component of his team’s triumph.
“Our defense was one of the keys that we were really focusing on,” he said. “And we focused last night and today on the fact that our perimeter defense has to be at a high level. We had to try to force them to match our mental intensity and engagement in the back-court.”
Setter Austin Richards paced Northeastern’s attack by dishing out 28 assists. Attackers Wyatt Hughes, Nate Wilson and Alex Finch also enjoyed big nights. Hughes finished with eight kills while Finch and Wilson each pounded five kills apiece.
The Bobcats will now attempt to claim a sixth-and-final consecutive 2-A title Saturday. Next season Northeastern will be bumped up to the 3-A level.
Wilson sounded as if he was a bit amazed by his team’s recent string of success.
“Six straight finals … that’s is crazy,” Wilson said. “I would have never have dreamed that.”
The Bobcats cruised past the Barons in the district title game two weeks ago, 25-16, 25-18, 25-13, in a contest that lasted just more than an hour. Wilson doesn’t expect the rematch to go as smoothly.
“It’s going to be a back-and-forth battle,” he said. “And at the end of the day it’s going to come down to who wants it more.”
Manheim Central beat Cambridge Springs in the other state 2-A semifinal on Tuesday, 3-0.
Central York falls: The Central York boys' volleyball season ended with a 23-25, 25-21, 25-17, 18-25, 15-6 loss to District 7 champion North Allegheny in a PIAA Class 3-A semifinal at Johnstown's Richland High School.
The Panthers, the third-place team from District 3, finished at 17-4 and won't have the opportunity to defend their PIAA 3-A state title.
Cole Johnson led the Panthers with 20 kills, six digs and three aces. Also for Central, Braden Richard had 16 kills and seven digs, Brock Anderson had 49 assists and six digs and Joe Jones had 21 digs.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.