Northeastern's drive for five may be sweeter than ever before
Bobcats boys' volleyball plays for Class 2A championship Saturday. (Teddy Feinberg/GameTimePA.com)
Even Matt Wilson allowed for a quick chuckle.
Is this season more special for Northeastern's boys' volleyball coach, who's in his 21st year in charge of the program and in the midst of another state championship run — the fifth straight Class 2A PIAA title the Bobcats look to call their own?
Yes, to some degree Wilson conceded, it is.
After all, the past four years Northeastern was anchored by Reese Devilbiss, a supreme talent who currently takes the court for Ohio State University. On top of that, a quality supporting cast was always in the offing.
Last year, Wilson said, it wasn't possible for his team to exceed expectations.
"You either achieved or you failed," Wilson said. "This year, you could conceivably do all three. Maybe there wasn't a failure option. Maybe you could achieve, or overachieve."
Northeastern takes the floor Saturday at 11 a.m. to face District 7 Class 2A champion Beaver County Christian. The state title match will be played at Rec Hall on the campus of Penn State University.
"To be here, it might be a little extra special because we were allowed to overachieve versus last year," Wilson said
At the outset of this season a youthful lineup was in place, and new faces had to take on new roles. Only Dakoda Hoffman returned with real championship-level experience. The rest of the group had to earn their stripes.
Outside hitter Cole Brillhart transferred in from Red Lion, a quality player entering the fold; James Toomey was moved from outside hitter to libero; and Alex Finch is a sophomore utility man who's played multiple positions this season for the Bobcats.
"He could be the next superstar at Northeastern," Wilson said during a Friday afternoon phone interview.
Yet the moving parts were hardly settled.
Wilson's son, Nate, has emerged as a freshman outside hitter; Wyatt Hughes' game has grown immensely while making the jump from JV to varsity; and Wilson said the Bobcats wouldn't still be alive without the competitiveness and leadership displayed by junior middle hitter Nate Eyster.
"Even our bench. Getting us hyped for games and getting us prepared," Eyster said. "A true team effort. It takes all of us to win a state title. Every player counts, every player matters."
Hughes said current Bobcats are focused on building their own legacy.
"We want to throw that stuff out the window," Hughes said of the program's previous championships. "Not focus on continuing it, but starting a new one. Push the way we want to go. Blaze a new track."
Throughout the season Northeastern played in a number of five-game matches, and Wilson said during the District 3 tournament that rarely has his squad played a complete match from start to finish.
The coach also believes, however, that such hard work and competitiveness has gotten his team to this point.
"This team takes nothing for granted. Bottom line," Wilson said. "Pregame preparation. In-game scenarios. There's been inconsistencies in practices and on the floor. Yet we've been improving to make sure that consistency is there more often."
Wilson added that this group is a "blue-collar type of team."
"They're willing to tough it out," he said. "They're willing to stand in and trade blows."
Eyster made sure to credit the coaching staff for instilling a championship mentality.
"(Wilson) wants the best from us. It's very hard to make him happy after a game," Eyster said. "Even after a 3-0 win, we sweep somebody, he points out our mistakes and what we have to work on the next day. He's not hard on us, but he's always making adjustments. That's what makes him a great coach. Same with all the assistants."
Volleyball State Title
Who: Northeastern vs. Beaver County Christian
What: PIAA Class 2A championship
Where: Recreation building on the campus of Penn State University in State College
When: Saturday at 11 a.m.