STATE COLLEGE -- The end of the season for the Northeastern boys' volleyball team followed much the same pattern that had preceded it.
Once again, the Bobcats showed flashes of promise, periods of play that hinted at the reservoirs of talent present among their fresh-faced lineup.
Once again, there was that little something extra that was missing.
As a result, Northeastern's season ended one day shorter than its players and coaches wanted during quarterfinal pool play of the PIAA Boys' Volleyball Championships. The Bobcats lost all three of their Class AA matches at Penn State's Multi-Sport Indoor Facility on Friday to finish in last place in Pool A.
In all three cases, the Bobcats (ranked fourth by the PVCA) couldn't muster the final push they needed to take control.
"I think our youngest guys in particular now realize what it means when you say 'You have to make that extra play,' " Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said. "You just have to make big plays at this level."
It marked the first time since 2008 the Bobcats failed to qualify for the state semifinals.
Still, it was hard to classify Northeastern's season as anything less than successful. The Bobcats played the entire campaign without senior outside hitter Tanner Sweitzer -- who was sidelined with a heart ailment -- and did not feature a senior in the starting lineup.
Wilson called the season "one of the most satisfying" he could remember.
"I think we got everything out of them," he said.
Northeastern's day actually got off to an encouraging start. The Bobcats took their opening game against York Suburban, 25-23, and led 20-17 in the teams' second game.
But the Trojans rolled off eight of the next 10 points en route to a 25-22 win. Northeastern never gained traction in the third game and fell, 25-17.
"That one stung," Wilson said.
So did the one that followed. After splitting their first two games, Northeastern and Bethlehem Catholic traded runs deep into a decisive third set. With York Suburban handling Derry, the pool's fourth member, on a neighboring court, the Bobcats understood a loss to Bethlehem Catholic would have eliminated them from semifinal contention.
The Golden Hawks scored three straight points to go ahead, 19-16. Joshua Chudyk's kill eventually closed out Bethlehem Catholic's 25-18, 14-25, 25-23 victory.
Northeastern then lost its final, ultimately meaningless match against Derry, 2-1 (25-21, 19-25, 25-23).
"We got into the elite eight," Wilson said. "We played the elite two, at least based on the rankings. Pushed both of them for the three games.
"I think we exceeded everybody's expectations. ... They made us proud today."
Unsung hero: Brad Hartshorne is often the overlooked member of York Suburban's offense. With so many hitting options on the outside, Hartshorne's contributions can be easy to miss.
Still, Trojans coach Jamie Evans made sure to single out the 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker after Friday's play ended. Evans specifically cited Hartshorne's play in Suburban's opening match with Northeastern.
"In that Northeastern game, he was the most consistent player," Evans said. "I think through the whole day he was."
Hartshorne, a first-year starter, notched 19 combined kills and seven blocks Friday.
"I pulled Brad aside in the preseason and said, 'Look, no matter how well you play, you're the underdog. You're the least experienced,' " Evans said. "We were really on him hard to improve his blocking and especially his offense."
Must be the mohawk: Besides both winning their respective pools Friday, York Suburban and Dover had one other factor in common.
Several members from both teams chose to shave their hair into mohawks as a show of their respective team unity.
"We were actually going to paint them red," Dover captain Ryan Lamparter said. "But we just went with regular mohawks, just to do something as a team."
Even the coaches got in on the act. Dover's Chris Kennedy and Evans both sported the signature style to match their players.
"We had a picnic on Monday. Some of them started doing it," Evans said. "I thought if they asked, I owed it to them."