So when the Eagles roared back from a seven-point deficit to win Game 2 of their PIAA Class AA semifinal against Bethlehem Catholic on Saturday morning, it seemed to be a flashpoint. The 26-24 victory tied the match at one-game apiece.
"We've been digging ourselves into holes pretty much all season," Dover coach Chris Kennedy said, "and we've found ways to come out."
Instead, it proved to be little more than a flicker during an otherwise-smothering Bethlehem Catholic performance. The Golden Hawks raced out to a big lead in Game 3, and Dover never mounted much of a challenge after that during a 3-1 defeat, 25-15, 24-26, 25-13, 25-11.
Bethlehem Catholic went on to defeat York Suburban, 3-1, in the championship match. The semifinal defeat ended the most successful season in Dover boys' volleyball history. After making their first appearance in the state quarterfinals last season, the Eagles and their senior-heavy lineup did one round better this year. They entered the weekend ranked No. 5 in the state by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
But against Bethlehem Catholic, the No. 2 ranked team, Dover looked overwhelmed. The Golden Hawks' offense was more fluid, and their massive line of blockers diverted away one Eagles attack after another.
Dover never recaptured the form it showed Friday, when it went undefeated in three pool play matches.
"There's really not much to say," Kennedy said. "We gave them a game that second game there, but we were flat.
"We didn't have an answer for their hitters. Our defense wasn't where they were supposed to be. Just everything seemed to go right for them and not go right for us."
Still, that big comeback in Game 2 seemed to offer hope.
Dover fell behind, 20-13, and had to ward off two game points before Ryan Lamparter's kill forced a 24-24 tie. Lamparter followed with a block, and a wayward Golden Hawks kill attempt clinched the game for Dover.
"I was talking to my assistant coach after that game," Kennedy said. "We were thinking that should be some kind of a momentum boost."
Rather, it was Bethlehem Catholic that seemed emboldened. The Golden Hawks churned to a 15-8 lead in Game 3.
In Game 4, they buried the Eagles in a 13-4 hole.
"They kind of put their foot down on us," Kennedy said.
Lamparter had a team-high 13 kills for Dover, while Tyler Lehman added nine. Fellow senior Brandon Krone dished 30 assists.
The defeat ended the careers of seven seniors that formed the bulk of Dover's lineup.
"Our goal was to play today," Kennedy said. "Obviously to come out and play the way we did wasn't what we wanted. But I'm proud of the guys that we got this far.
"I'm hoping to get some more guys out to see that Dover volleyball is the real deal, and hopefully get back here next year."
Holes to fill: Like Dover, York Suburban will have to replace most of its starting lineup next season. The Trojans graduate eight seniors, but will return starters Jacob Kauffman (outside hitter) and Brad Hartshorne (middle blocker).
"I don't want the program's progress to stop here," Hartshorne said. "We plan on keeping this going. Hopefully we can get back here."
Trojans coach Jamie Evans feels the experience of making the state final should help the next wave of Suburban players.
"I was just watching the underclassmen and how emotional they were," Evans said after the final. "And I said 'Look, you get to do this next year.' "
'He's a beast': Perhaps the most impressive individual player from the Class AA tournament didn't make the championship match.
Ambridge sophomore Lee Smith torched Suburban during the Trojans' five-set semifinal win. Smith pounded 40 kills, and at times seemed to be the recipient of every Ambridge set.
"Beyond tired," Smith said after the match. "So many jumps."
Still, Suburban finally corralled Smith during its seven-point run to close out a 15-10, Game 5 victory. The Trojans' blocked Smith twice during that stretch.
"He's a beast," Evans said of Smith. "We knew that was their go-to guy."
Other notes: Senior Ted Hinnenkamp had a huge day for York Suburban. He had 33 combined kills, and was the Trojans' leader in that category in both the semifinals and finals. ...Kody Deiter had 101 combined assists for the Trojans. ...The state title was Bethlehem Catholic's first in program history and came in the Golden Hawks' first championship game appearance. ...Chambersburg defeated Pennridge in the Class AAA championship match, 23-25, 25-20, 15-25, 25-23, 15-11.
York Suburban def. Ambridge, 20-25, 25-17, 29-31, 27-25, 15-10
Bethlehem Catholic def. Dover, 25-15, 24-26, 25-13, 25-11
BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC 3, DOVER 1
(25-15, 24-26, 25-13, 25-14)
Dover stats -- Tyler Wiley (26 digs), Ryan Lamparter (13 kills, 13 digs, 4 blocks), Brendan Warren (2 aces, 5 kills, 23 digs, 2 blocks), Tyler Lehman (9 kills, 25 digs, 1 block), Ean Julius (4 kills, 2 blocks), Derek Stern (1 kill, 3 blocks), Brandon Krone (30 assists).