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Northeastern falls to big, talented Hempfield team in district 3-A boys' volleyball final

RYAN VANDERSLOOT
717-505-5403/@ydsports
Northeastern's Brady Lemen bumps the ball during PIAA District 3, Class 3-A boys' volleyball championship action against Hempfield at Northeastern Senior High School in Manchester, Friday, May 28, 2021. Hempfield would win the game 3-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

MANCHESTER – It’s not often that the Northeastern boys’ volleyball team plays the role of David in a match against a Goliath.

Friday evening was one of those exceptions.

Taking on Hempfield in the District 3 Class 3-A title contest, the third-seeded Bobcats had their hands full with a Black Knights squad that features a ton of height and talent.

Starring in the main role of Goliath for fifth-seeded Hempfield was 6-foot, 6-inch middle Ryan Givens. In previous years, Givens was known mainly as an outstanding blocker. Friday night, Givens demonstrated he’s grown into more than just that.

And on this night, David couldn't slay Goliath.

Then senior put on a show all night, tallying 17 kills to go with nine blocks to help lead the Black Knights to an impressive 25-11, 25-23, 21-25, 25-20 victory over the Bobcats at Northeastern High School.

Northeastern's Joel Braswell, right, hits the ball across the net while Hempfield's Dante Keener defends during PIAA District 3, Class 3-A boys' volleyball championship action at Northeastern Senior High School in Manchester, Friday, May 28, 2021. Hempfield would win the game 3-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The victory marked the 14th District 3 title for Hempfield, which improved to 17-1 overall, while ending unbeaten Northeastern’s string of 16 straight victories. Both teams will now move on to state action.

“We ran into the kryptonite of our season,” Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said. “A very, long, tall and big team. Just like North Allegheny (which is ranked No. 1 in the state in 3-A). They got on us early with the blocks and that changed the whole dynamic of our attack.”

The Bobcats tried to avoid the block in Set 1 to no avail. The Manchester boys committed an unsightly 16 hitting errors that contributed to the shellacking they took in the opener.

Northeastern's Brady Lemen, center, hits the ball across the net while Hempfield's Adam Gimeson, left, and Ryan Givens defend during PIAA District 3, Class 3-A boys' volleyball championship action at Northeastern Senior High School in Manchester, Friday, May 28, 2021. Hempfield would win the game 3-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Bobcats were able to reduce those errors the rest of the night, but found it tough to string points together whenever Givens was on the court. Perhaps trying too hard to compensate for the tall blockers on the other side of the court, the Northeastern serve-receive broke down a number of times, setting up either errors or a strong counter by the Knights.

“The one thing that we’re known for is our serve-receive,” Wilson said. “Our first-ball contact tonight was not good and the pass to the setter breaks down and that leads to a more predictable offense.”

Wilson heaped a bunch of well-deserved praise on Givens, who was a beast all night. The only times the Bobcats were able to seemingly get things in order were the times Givens was on the bench between his serve and his return to the front line.

“Ryan Givens is one of the most talented blockers that I’ve ever been around,” Wilson said. “No. 2 (Givens) has always been a good blocker, but now his offense has caught up to his blocking, which makes for a terrifying matchup.”

Wilson could have easily went to the well with excuses for his team’s play, but didn’t bite. Friday was Northeastern’s graduation in the same gym that his nine seniors played in just a few hours later.

“I’m not really good with excuses,” Wilson said. “We were here on our own floor and the crowd was ready to get raucous tonight.”

What Wilson is about, however, is finding ways to plan for an attack against a Goliath-like opponent. He’s well aware that the PIAA 3-A field is littered with teams similar to Hempfield in that regard.

Northeastern's Brian Warrender during PIAA District 3, Class 3-A boys' volleyball championship action against Hempfield at Northeastern Senior High School in Manchester, Friday, May 28, 2021. Hempfield would win the game 3-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

While first-round opponent Penn-Trafford, the No. 3 seed from District 7, isn’t one of those programs, a potential date in the quarterfinals with North Allegheny would present Wilson another opportunity to find a way to overcome a team with notable size.

Slaying Goliath, however, is much easier said than done.

“We need to be nearly flawless against a big team,” Wilson said. “Our side needs to be flawless.”

Brian Warrender led the Bobcats with 15 kills. Setter Tanner Sadowski dished out 39 assists, while libero Tristan Schraudner tallied 24 digs

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.