Central York boys' volleyball outlasts Northeastern as teams split league title

The Panthers won a five-set thriller to secure the top seed in next week's league tournament.

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

EMIGSVILLE — One of the better traditions in the York-Adams League is the regular-season clash between boys’ volleyball heavyweights Northeastern and Central York on the league’s final day of play.

It’s been that way for a while, and it was another high-stakes battle Thursday as the top two teams in the league — and two of the top five in the Class 3A coaches' rankings — squared off at Central York High School.

After dropping their first match of the season, the Panthers have been on a tear ever since. That continued Thursday, as the hosts took the first two sets.

The Bobcats, who entered the night unbeaten in the league and ranked No. 4 in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll (one spot ahead of CY), found their groove before it was too late, taking Sets 3 and 4 to send the match to a winner-take-all fifth set.

With momentum against them, the Panthers still stormed out of the gates in Set 5 and never looked back. While the Bobcats did what they could, it wasn’t enough as the Central York boys claimed a 25-18, 25-20, 18-25, 23-25, 15-8 triumph.

Central York’s Donovan Burris, left, hits the ball while York Suburban’s Kevin Bryant defends during boys’ volleyball action at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. York Suburban would win the match 3-0. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The result means the rivals will share the Y-A regular season title with 11-1 records, but the Panthers earn the No. 1 seed in next week’s league playoffs by virtue of their head-to-head victory.

“We definitely found out who our team is,” Central York co-coach Landon Shorts said. “We’ve put the puzzle pieces together and we found a groove that really works.”

The bitterness of an opening-night setback to York Suburban seems like ages ago, as the Panthers (now 12-1 overall) have found their strengths and utilized them to their advantage.

One characteristic that hasn’t been tested much during league play is resiliency. Thursday was Central's first five-set match of the season, and the team came through like a champion.

“We knew they would be coming at us with some fire,” CY senior Donovan Burris said, “especially after they won the third and fourth sets. They were very hyped up and confident. We had to make some adjustments in the fifth set and we made sure we picked it back up and played with all that we’ve got, and we did that.”

The Bobcats certainly tried to use their momentum, but found things going in reverse instead of forward with a chance to knock off their rival.

“To be honest, we were just all out of sorts in Set 5,” Northeastern coach Lamar Fahnestock said. “After everything went right for us (in Sets 3 and 4), everything was just all over the place and we didn’t better the ball. It comes down to that next contact. … If we have one bad contact, that next contact has to be better, but in (Set 5), it just led to another bad contact, and you can’t have that in a match like this.”

The beauty of these two top-notch programs playing on the final night of the regular season is that, in just a few days, they could earn a chance at a rematch in the league tournament final. Before they get there, however, the Panthers will have to get by a pesky York Catholic side that finished 9-3 in its first season in the circuit. The Bobcats will have to rebound against No. 3-seed York Suburban (9-2), the only team to defeat Central York this spring.

All four teams in the playoff, which takes place Monday and Tuesday at Dallastown, are ranked in the top 10 in the PVCA poll, with York Catholic earning the No. 7 spot in Class 2A and Suburban one slot behind them.

Those clashes, however, were not on the top of anyone’s mind after Thursday’s epic showdown.

“I’m just stoked,” Central York setter Lance Shaffer said. “We needed it.”

Central York’s Lance Shaffer sets the ball during boys’ volleyball action against York Suburban at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. York Suburban would win the match 3-0. Dawn J. Sagert photo

If one has to pinpoint a single reason the Panthers have taken off this season, it might just be Shaffer’s play from the setter position. Early in the campaign, the team went with a 6-2 rotation that allowed senior Devon Marsh and Shaffer to take turns at the position.

That early setback against Suburban, however, planted the seeds for the eventual change to allowing Shaffer to take over entirely no matter where he was on the court. The results have been clear — the Panthers took off and haven’t looked back.

“We knew something had to change,” said Shaffer, who dished out 46 assists in the victory. “At the Bobcat (Invitational in April), we tried this out and it just stuck.”

Shorts gave credit to Shaffer as well as fellow coach Brock Anderson for developing and growing Shaffer into the all-state caliber setter that he has become.

“That kid is a game-changer,” Shorts said. “From his ability as a setter to the way he reads the game to the way he sets up our options, you can’t give enough credit to (Shaffer). And all props to Brock — he’s our setting guy and took Lance under this wing and really shared all the secrets that he has with Lance.”

Mason Boyer led Central York with 17 kills, while Christian Bucks finished with 15 in the victory. Burris chipped in 12, giving the Panthers three players with double-digit kills.

Hugh Rogers led the Bobcats (12-2 overall) with 12 kills, although four of his mates — Koltrin Forry, Ryan Kinney, Ethan Schick and Zach Kilpatrick — finished with between six and eight kills apiece. Tyler Finch and Chase Almes combined for 39 assists for Northeastern.