By RYAN VANDERSLOOT
It’s an adage in the world of sports that you never want to hit your peak too soon.
That saying was followed to a “T” by the Northeastern boys’ volleyball program this year.
After a couple of disheartening setbacks against PIAA Class AAA champion Central York in the regular-season finale and the league playoff final, the Bobcats started to get hot. And no one, not even No. 1 ranked Ambridge, could cool them off.
The scorching run that Coach Matt Wilson’s club went on through the District 3 and then the PIAA Class AA brackets culminated in back-to-back titles for the Manchester school.
It also yielded a record-tying five all-state players (tied with the 2010 club), as voted on by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. That came from a total of 24 AA honorees. Seniors Luke Braswell and Matt Hollinger were joined by junior Philip White and sophomores Brandon Arentz and Reese Devilbiss on the squad. York Suburban’s Jacob Kauffman was also named to the team.
“I thought those five guys (to be honored) was really well deserved,” Wilson said. “One of the big keys to our success was those five guys carrying a really big load for us. And you could probably make a case for Casey (Winand) as well. But I think they got it right.”
Braswell: Braswell, a three-time all-state award winner, highlighted the contingent. Despite missing a majority of the season, the Penn State-bound setter returned and led his team on an epic run to close out his great high school career.
“Well, what else can I say about Luke?” Wilson said. “From a high school perspective, in my opinion, I think he’s leaving Northeastern High School as the best setter that I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching or being around. And probably one of the best setters to ever come out of York County. Down the stretch, late in the season, he just played at another level. It was impressive to watch. He’ll be missed.”
Devilbiss: One of Braswell’s favorite targets the past two years has been Devilbiss, who led the team in kills. Just a sophomore, Devilbiss was a threat from anywhere on the court to put the ball on the ground.
His defense, one area typically overlooked for an outside, quickly caught up to his powerful spikes in terms of reliability. Now a two-time all-state honoree, he finished with 487 kills, 69 blocks and 55 aces for the season.
Hollinger: Hollinger was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades for Wilson over his career. He’s played defensive specialist, libero and outside hitter throughout his career and excelled in each spot. If he possessed the size of Braswell he very well could have been another NCAA Division I-bound player.
“If he was 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-4 he could probably be in contention to be considered as one of the best volleyball players throughout the state,” Wilson said. “He has great feet and he’s a great athlete. Just small in stature (5-foot-10), but large in terms of what he’s capable of doing. I’m real thrilled for Matt and he’s worked hard to get where he’s at.”
White: At the onset of the season it was White who was pinpointed by his coach as the balance for the club. If White could step up and help fill the void left by Stephen Braswell’s graduation from a year earlier, the Bobcats could repeat history according to Wilson.
“Coming into the year I said the biggest question mark we had was Philip White,” Wilson said. “And I’ll be honest, we had some highs and lows with him this year. But he stuck through it, he persevered and went through some tough matches and some tough nights with me. But I will sit here and tell you that one of the main reasons we were able to turn and get on a roll was Philip’s level of play down the stretch. He became an extremely dominant offensive player for us and, at the end, also a solid blocker, which was an area he had been struggling in.”
Arentz: The most impressive of the five all-state players to make the team may have been Arentz, who earned a spot as a libero even though he didn’t start out the season at that position.
“Brandon came on and was playing another position earlier on,” Wilson said. “But down the stretch, his passing and defensive effort just really skyrocketed the last three weeks. I think sometimes its just good timing when you get seen by people. And there’s no doubt that when people are watching you in the state championship match and you’re sticking out at the libero spot, he picked a very good time to get himself noticed. I’m very happy for him.”
Kauffman: Wilson was one of Kauffman’s biggest fans, saying he possessed “one of the most lethal jumpers in the state.”
A standout hitter, Kauffman consistently packed the stat sheet for the Trojans, who finished fourth in both the District 3-AA Tournament and in the York-Adams League.
“Jake is a great player and we knew we had to try to contain him,” Central York’s Dylan Hose said earlier this season. “We always wanted to get two blockers up on him.”
Kauffman was a four-year starter for Suburban.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.
PENNSYLVANIA VOLLEYBALL COACHES ASSOCIATION 2014 class AA BOYS’ ALL-STATE VOLLEYBALL TEAM
Mike Conlon, Jr., S, Holy Redeemer, Mike Prociak, Sr., M, Holy Redeemer.
Alex Myers, Sr., M, Garden Spot. Micah Hostetter, Sr., S, Garden Spot. Brandon Arentz, Soph., LIB, Northeastern. Philip White, Jr., O, Northeastern. Luke Braswell, Sr., S, Northeastern. Reese Devilbiss, Soph., O, Northeastern. Matt Hollinger, Sr., O, Northeastern. Jacob Kauffman, Sr., O, York Suburban.
Ben Kasun, Sr., S, Bishop Guilfoyle.
Aaron Mueller, Sr., S, Ambridge. Lee Smith, Sr., O, Ambridge. Brandon Buck, Sr., O, Ambridge. Dan Zajac, Sr., O, Ambridge. Jon Knab, Sr., M, Beaver C.C. Matt Vasinko, Sr., O, Derry. Ethan Huston, Sr., O, Derry. Izaak Fulmer-Moffat, Sr., LIB, Derry. Shaughn McDonald, Sr., O, Our Lady of Secred Heart.
Nick Dickson, Sr., O, Cochranton. Logan Herzberger, Sr., O, Cochranton. Alex Barclay, Jr., O. Saegertown. Brendon Barclay, Jr., O, Saegertown.