After lost season, Northeastern's Matt Wilson 'excited' for 2021 boys' volleyball campaign

Northeastern head coach Matt Wilson hugs Cole Brillhart while presenting the medals for the York-Adams League boys' volleyball championship, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

Matt Wilson has been around the sport of volleyball for quite some time.

After playing competitively in high school at Northeastern and collegiately at Ohio State, Wilson has spent the last 25-plus years as the head coach of the Bobcat boys’ volleyball program.

Suffice it to say, Wilson has seen and experienced a lot during that time.

Even for a coach with a long history, however, the Northeastern boss can’t say that he’s ever experienced anything like what's happened over the past year.

Going more than a full calendar year without any games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson is both excited, and yet unsure, about what to expect for his powerhouse program after missing an entire season. The Bobcats open up on Friday, March 26, at Elizabethtown.

“I think it’s been healthy for everyone to be able to get back into the gym, me included,” Wilson said. “We’re just trying to play catch-up right now.”

A lost season for the seniors: The lost season was difficult on many different levels for Wilson and his program.

With a roster that would have included three standout senior starters, as well as a few role-playing seniors, the Bobcats were certainly one of the favorites to compete for a PIAA Class 3-A state title a season ago.

So having the rug pulled out from underneath them was devastating, to say the least.

“I don’t know if things will ever be the same,” Wilson said. “It was hard to watch and be a part of, and I’m sure I can speak for any senior in any sport last spring that this happened to.”

The three seniors that Wilson highlighted — setter Austin Richards and hitters Nate Wilson (who is Matt’s son) and Zech Sanderson — each were all-state caliber players. Those three, as well as their teammates, were eagerly looking to make amends for a 2019 campaign, when the Bobcats failed to advance to a PIAA state final for the first time in years. Northeastern won six consecutive state crowns under Wilson from 2013 through 2018.

”I really feel for the class of 2020,” coach Wilson said.

Younger players missed out on gaining experience: The missed season also hindered the growth of younger players, who could have sorely used the extra time to prepare for their season in the spotlight.

Instead of having some experience under their collective belts, the seniors of this year’s squad will have to learn fast on the job.

Wilson mentioned a number of under-the-radar names as ones to look out for this season. His list included setter Tanner Sadowski, in addition to hitters Joel Braswell, Brady Lemen, Brian Warrender and Tristan Schraudner.

“We have a good group of seniors,” Wilson said. “And I’m real excited for them. They’ll get their chance and we’ll see what we can make of it.”

While Wilson feels fairly good about where his program is right now, he’s also fairly uncertain about what to expect. His seniors are all talented, but none of them have much, if any, big-match experience.

“It’s probably the first time in a decade or so where I don’t have a player in the gym that has won a state championship before,” Wilson said. “So we don’t have a guy with that state championship to sort of lean on, so that’s going to certainly be a little different.”

The same, however, can be said of nearly every other boys’ volleyball team in the state. Perennial York-Adams League contenders and rivals Central York and York Suburban are in the same boat after making the state finals in 3-A and 2-A, respectively, in 2019.

Tournaments will be smaller: Another reverberation of the coronavirus pandemic is that the big weekend tournaments that are played throughout the season will be severely curtailed. Teams from around the state will not be staying overnight for those competitions, which means that the Bobcat Invitational that Northeastern hosts, along with the Koller Classic at Central York, will have a different feel.

“The Bobcat is only going to be 15 teams this year instead of 40,” Wilson said. “We couldn’t even get 16 teams, and we tried. No one can come in (from outside of District 3), so it’s going to be like a big District 3 tournament.”

Wilson opts against retirement: As for Wilson personally, the lost 2020 season did throw a wrinkle into his coaching plans. He fully expected the 2020 season to be his last one, coinciding with Nate's senior season.

The cancellation of the campaign, however, left a bit of an empty feeling for him. That void ultimately spurred Wilson to commit to at least one more year at the helm at Northeastern.

“I was pretty set on walking away after the 2020 season, but, for me, I would rather it end on the floor,” he said. “I didn’t want a pandemic to be the way it ended, so I’m just going to take it year by year now.”

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