Northeastern earns PIAA boys' volleyball win, but Bobcats coach says team must play better

Northeastern's Joel Braswell (33) and Jacob Hornberger defend a return by Penn Trafford's Milan Cermak in a Class 3-A first-round state playoff match at Dalllastown High School Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

DALLASTOWN – Victories in the PIAA state boys’ volleyball playoffs are rarely easy, but they are definitely important.

It’s not how you win, but only if you win, that matters.

For the Northeastern boys’ volleyball team, Tuesday was a chance to rebound from the squad’s first loss of the season in the District 3 Class 3-A title game against Hempfield.

Taking on Penn Trafford, the third seed from District 7, at Dallastown High School in their 3-A state opener, the Bobcats were a bit sloppy, but still got the job done.

Falling behind 4-0 to begin Set 1, the York-Adams League regular-season champions turned things around. Northeastern rallied back midway through the first set to take control and never let it go in a 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 triumph.

The Bobcats (18-1) advance to the state quarterfinals at noon Saturday at Altoona High School, where a date with District 7 champion North Allegheny is now set. North Allegheny is ranked No. 1 in the state in 3-A, according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. Northeastern is ranked No. 4. North Allegehny rolled past Cumberland Valley in its first-round state match on Tuesday, 3-0. CV was the fourth-place team from District 3.

“Survive and advance, right,” Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said. “That’s what it’s all about at this point.”

Have the Bobcats plateaued? Wilson’s club is clearly one of the top teams in the state, although the longtime coach remains concerned that his team has somewhat plateaued, instead of peaking for the final stretch. When the Bobcats are on their game, their dynamic offense is difficult to stop. That hasn’t been the case over the past two weeks, according to Wilson.

“We just have to be ourselves again,” he said. “We haven’t been ourselves in over two weeks now. We had 27 unforced errors tonight and 17 missed serves. And we start the match off with three missed serves and an ace. We are just giving away points and that’s not who we are.”

Despite the errors, the Bobcats can overcome those hiccups with sheer talent against most sides. Such was the case Tuesday, when the Bobcats were able to shake off some sloppiness.

That formula, however, worked poorly in Friday’s loss to Hempfield.

“It was a poor performance all the way around for us,” Northeastern senior outside Joel Braswell said of the loss to Hempfield. “We don’t feel like we left (Friday’s match) being beaten, but that we lost to ourselves.”

Looking for improvement from team leaders: As one of the leaders both on and off the court for the Bobcats, Wilson pointed out Braswell as someone who needs to elevate his game for the team to excel. Braswell tallied nine kills and three blocks on Tuesday, but also led Northeastern with six hitting errors.

“Joel is the vocal leader for us,” Wilson said. “And right now we need Joel Braswell to find himself.”

Volleyball, however, is not a one-man sport at the high school level. While Braswell may have room to improve, he’s hardly the only one on the team in that regard.

Braswell knows that.

“If we all play at our highest level, we have the ability to compete against anyone,” Braswell said. “We know that when we perform the way that we can, we can do it. But it’s all between the ears right now.”

Wilson also highlighted Brady Lemen (nine kills) as another Bobcat who he could use at the top of his game. Brian Warrender has done just that. Warrender led the Manchester boys in kills for the night with 13, to go along with eight digs.

“Brian was out there Friday in the Hempfield match pumping fists and fighting,” Wilson said. “And that’s not really Brian’s M.O. but it became that Friday, and we’re looking for some more of that.”

Tanner Sadowski finished with 35 assists for the Bobcats, while Tristan Schraudner recorded 17 digs.

A near-flawless effort will be needed Saturday: Wilson knows his team will have to play nearly flawlessly Saturday against North Allegheny. Northeastern has faced NA in six sets this year, yet did not win a single one of them.

“We will really have to serve well and pass well,” Wilson said. “We have to stay in system to allow our offense to be what it can be, which is very dynamic and diverse. But every time that we’ve played them, we have not passed well. It was the same thing against Hempfield.”

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