Burris proving a quick study for streaking Central York boys' volleyball team

Senior Donovan Burris has become a standout for the Panthers, who swept Governor Mifflin in the district playoffs Tuesday.

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

EMIGSVILLE — It is quite easy — and wrong — for a casual observer of boys’ volleyball to assume that playing the sport is not all that complicated.

The truth, however, is that it typically takes years of practice to get accustomed to the nuances that are sometimes hidden behind the glamor of thunderous attacks during matches.

“The hard thing about volleyball, especially to those that have never played it, is getting to learn how to play the game,” Central York assistant coach Brock Anderson said. “Usually we’ll have kids that come in as freshman or sophomores and they have some time before they start playing on varsity to learn the game.”

It’s very rare for so-called newbies to walk into the gym and play well from the beginning, let alone be a dominant force, but Central senior Donovan Burris has picked up the game quickly and excelled. After playing his junior season with the school’s JV team, Burris has been a starter all this season for the Panthers, who are ranked fourth in the state in Class 3A by a voting panel of coaches.

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 lefty-swinging outside attacker was a force Tuesday evening in the team's District 3 Class 3A first-round playoff contest against Penn Manor. Burris finished with 11 kills to help No. 3-seed Central claim a 25-17, 25-19, 25-23 sweep over the Comets and advance to the quarterfinal round Saturday morning opposite Governor Mifflin.

“He came in as a junior last year, which was tough, because he had to catch up with others while learning how to play the game,” Anderson said. “He had to learn the rules and all of that stuff and what he has done is super-impressive. I can’t say that in all of my years playing volleyball and being around this program that I’ve ever seen someone pick it up this quickly.”

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Burris certainly was helped by some of the best former players and coaches in the state to get up to speed. The 6-foot-6 senior hailed the late Central York head coach Todd Goodling as perhaps the most important person in his development as a player.

“My weightlifting coach’s son plays volleyball for Dover,” Burris said. “And he recommended me to Coach Todd and Todd invited me to an open gym and it all started from there. It started off really well and it’s been a journey, but an awesome journey.”

There is little doubt that his size and his left-handedness gave Burris a leg up on similar players in his position. Those traits, however, are only the building blocks and are not as useful unless experience and game savvy are added into the mix.

Fortunately for Burris, he was blessed to learn the game from Goodling — who is widely regarded as one of Pennsylvania's best volleyball coaches of all time — as well as from former Central York standout Matt Smyser. Smyser, who was an all-state attacker last year, provided Burris an excellent example of how to play the position.

Central's Matt Smyser (17) hitting the ball back over to Northeastern during their volleyball game in York, Pa on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

“Matt is a very big part of how I’ve learned to play the game,” Burris said. “He showed me the ropes. Coach Todd just allowed me and him to work together and there’s no doubt that Matt has helped turn me into a better player.”

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While Burris has picked up the physical traits of the game pretty quickly — he is already one of the hardest hitters for the Central York attack — his ability to soak up knowledge and put it to use effectively in his game is something that Anderson, a former all-state setter himself, finds remarkable.

“It’s really a testament to all of the hard work that Donovan has put in,” Anderson said. “He’s been around all the time during the offseason and he’s just very receptive to coaching, which all of the coaches appreciate a lot.”

Burris, who will graduate Friday evening, is hoping his journey with his teammates will be extended at least a few more weeks.

“I think I’ve found my home here with the volleyball team,” Burris said. “It’s been an awesome ride to be a part of the time and I’m just happy that I have the opportunity to show people what I can do.”

Match Notes: Mason Boyer led the Panthers with 14 kills, while Trevor Ketrick finished with seven kills and four blocks in the victory. Setter Lance Shaffer dished out 36 assists, while libero Ryan Roberts paced the defense with 15 digs.