Sometimes things turn out just the way they're expected to.
The York Suburban boys’ volleyball team is a pretty good example of that.
Heading into the season, the Trojans may have hoped and expected to be playing for a state title this weekend, but the path to Penn State was likely not as designed.
No matter the path, however, Suburban (17-4) has still punched the program’s second-ever ticket to the PIAA Class 2-A final after ousting Manheim Central Tuesday, 3-1, in the semifinals. That avenged an earlier 3-0 defeat to the Barons in the District 3 final.
Suburban will now attempt to win the program's first-ever state crown.
Injury changed things: YS coach Oliver Good figured his talented squad would ride its way to perhaps a league title, a district title and maybe even a state title with Trevor Culbertson directing the offense from the setter position. The 6-foot, 1-inch Culbertson has the size that coaches crave in the position that many refer to as the quarterback of the attack.
Culbertson, however, suffered a fairly serious concussion early in the preseason that kind of flipped all of Good’s plans upside-down. Fortunately, the team’s setter from a season ago, Noah Chojnacki, was healthy and able to fill the void.
“We were planning on running a 5-1 with Trevor, who's just a sophomore,” Good said. “And we felt that Trevor really earned that spot through the winter and he was really playing well and connecting well with our middles. But he suffered a pretty severe concussion in one of our practices that took him nearly a month and a half to recover from. So at that point we kind of just rolled with Noah.”
Decision time: When Culbertson finally was cleared to return to practice, Good had a decision to make.
“I was kind of hesitant to make a significant change, but we were starting to get beat badly on Noah’s block,” Good said. “Because he’s a little shorter (5-7) than Trevor.”
The decision was finalized in such a way for Good to play both of them in a very strategic manner. Chojnacki tallied 621 assists this season while Culbertson has recorded 243.
“We now have Noah set when he’s in the back row and Trevor sets when he’s in the front row,” Good said. “We just kind of made it up, but it was because Noah’s defense is better in the back row and Trevor’s block is stronger in the front row. Both players have kind of bought into that and it’s just like ‘we’ll see how it goes.'”
The result has been the program’s first appearance in the state title game since the Trojans lost in the final in 2012 to Bethlehem Catholic.
Meadville up next: In the final Saturday at noon at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena, the Trojans will meet up with another program making its first trip to the final in a while. Meadville (19-0), the District 10 champion, got past Ambridge, 3-1, Tuesday to earn the right to battle the YS boys for the state championship.
In the most recent Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association 2-A state poll, Meadville was ranked No. 2 and Suburban was No. 3. Manheim Central had been No. 1.
The Bulldogs feature an outstanding attacker in Aiden Miller. The 6-foot, 4-inch senior leads his team with 278 kills and 49 aces.
While Good hasn’t had a great deal of time to scout the Bulldogs so far, he does remember Miller from the State College Tournament that both teams participated in back in late April.
“I just remember, from what we saw of him in State College, was that he hits very well from the back row,” Good said. “His back-row swing is one of the best in the state.”
Tucker Watson is second on Meadville with 107 kills this year. Setter Paul Leech is adept at finding the right spot for his attackers. He’s tallied 536 assists this season.
“(Leech) is a smart player,” Good said. “He’ll drop a dump or two on you, so we have to stay alert for that.”
Suburban has formidable one-two attack: Messiah recruit Nate Bowman and Declan Ridings form a formidable one-two attack for the Trojans. Bowman has 367 kills while Ridings has 349.
In addition to those two, Luke Babinchak and Harrison Perring have been strong in the middle for YS, with each tallying more than 150 kills. John Doll, a 6-2 middle, has been effective as well in more limited action, tallying 58 kills to go with 51 blocks.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PIAA CLASS 2-A BOYS' VOLLEYBALL TITLE MATCH
MEADVILLE BULLDOGS (19-0)
District 10 champions
Fifth finals appearance: (1-4, won in 1964; last appearance 2010, lost 3-1 to Northeastern).
Coach: Nick Bancroft
Players to Watch
Aiden Miller: (outside hitter) 278 kills, 49 aces, 23 blocks, 134 digs, 15 assists.
Tucker Watson: (middle hitter) 107 kills, 5 aces, 29 blocks, 24 digs.
Julian Jones: (outside hitter) 74 kills, 18 aces, 6 blocks, 118 digs, 10 assists.
Paul Leech: (setter) 57 kills, 21 aces, 37 blocks, 129 digs, 536 assists.
Mark Conrad: (right side) 44 kills, 15 aces, 7 blocks, 126 digs, 38 assists.
Brendan Leech: (libero) 164 digs.
Common foe: Lost to Central York at State College Tournament, 2-0; defeated Ambridge in state semifinals, 3-1.
YORK SUBURBAN TROJANS (17-4)
District 3 runner-up
Second finals appearance: (0-1, last appearance 2012, lost 3-1 to Bethlehem Catholic).
Coach: Oliver Good
Players to Watch
Nate Bowman: (outside hitter) 367 kills, 27 aces, 175 digs, 73 blocks.
Luke Babinchak: (outside hitter) 165 kills, 7 aces, 24 digs, 35 blocks.
Declan Ridings: (middle hitter) 349 kills, 36 aces, 126 digs, 30 blocks.
Harrison Perring: (middle hitter) 153 kills, 29 aces, 24 digs, 52 blocks.
Trevor Culbertson: (setter) 20 kills, 243 assists, 54 digs, 10 blocks
John Doll: (middle hitter) 58 kills, 51 blocks.
Noah Chojnacki: (setter) 25 aces, 621 assists, 168 digs.
Harrison Gettle: (libero) 343 digs, 36 assists, 22 aces.
Common foe: Lost to Central York, 3-1, in regular season and 3-0 in league playoffs; split with Ambridge at State College Tournament, 1-1.