Northeastern sweeps Holy Redeemer, returns for third straight PIAA final
EXETER TOWNSHIP >> A TV camera's light beat down on Matt Wilson's face. The Northeastern boys' volleyball coach glowed in more ways than one.
His team just swept Holy Redeemer in three games Tuesday at Exeter Township High School, securing the Bobcats' third straight trip to the state championship.
"As the lights get bigger, they tend to rise to the occasion," Wilson said in front of the camera. "Tonight I thought was a pretty good glimpse of what they can become."
With two straight PIAA Class AA titles to its credit, Northeastern will play for another Saturday morning at Penn State's Rec Hall. The Bobcats draw District 10 champion Saegertown, which swept District 7's Obama Academy in Tuesday's other semifinal.
Northeastern's semifinal road block came in the form of Holy Redeemer — which stood in the way each of the last two years at this point. Like the last two state semifinals, this one ended in a sweep, 25-13, 25-14, 25-13.
Also like last year, the Bobcats didn't allow more than 15 points in any of the games.
By the end of Tuesday, Wilson called it a glimpse of his team's potential. This dominance came against the fourth-ranked team in the state coaches poll. To begin the day, he took nothing for granted and called an 8 a.m. practice to set the tone.
Six seniors, including Philip White, graduated Saturday before their quarterfinal match. The last day for everyone else at Northeastern was Monday.
"I know in the back of Wilson's head, he didn't want us sleeping in," White said. "I'm sure some of us would have been sleeping in until 12."
If Brandon Arentz's opening serve into the net Tuesday afternoon was any indication, the Bobcats were a little drowsy. Redeemer matched the Bobcats to a 5-5 tie before Pennsylvania's top-ranked team began to assert itself.
Reese Devilbiss pulverized the volleyball through the middle of Redeemer's defense. Arentz took a turn. Then White slammed one to the floor.
"After we got that run, we all felt more comfortable and just started to click," said White, who produced match highs of 14 kills and five aces.
White's production from the service position dominated portions of Tuesday's encounter.
The 6-foot-3 outside hitter provided back-to-back aces during Northeastern's pivotal run to win Game 1. He did it again late in Game 2.
"Phil possesses a pretty lethal serve from the service line," Wilson said.
"If he can maintain that confidence and steadiness, it's going to be huge for us going into the next round."
That next opponent, Saegertown is currently ranked second behind Northeastern in the PVCA poll for Class AA. The Panthers have remained there since Northeastern opened the season by sweeping them, then state's preseason No. 1. The sides met a day later at a tournament and again at the Bobcats' own in-season invitational.
Each meeting resulted in a dominating performance by Northeastern.
Most opponents are left in that predicament.
"We just ran into a team we couldn't beat," Holy Redeemer setter Michael Conlon said.
Conlon and the Royals arrived from Wilkes-Barre with considerable credentials. On top of their state ranking, they were again the District 2 champion and were a player during Northeastern's 40-team Bobcat Invitational in March.
"Games against Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley prepared us for this," said Conlon, who had 19 assists in his final match. "When it came down to executing, we didn't execute as well as we wanted to."
Northeastern seems to have that effect.
Maybe it's the preparation. On top of an early practice Tuesday, Wilson took note in Redeemer's state quarterfinal sweep of Lancaster Mennonite. The Blazers, who Northeastern also swept en route to a district title, struggled to score after serving.
"We felt we had to create those opportunities, and we did," Wilson said. "We created them in bunches, fortunately."
Northeastern scored eight times on aces — watching Redeemer trip up under the same light.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
Northeastern def. Holy Redeemer 25-13, 25-14, 25-13 at Exeter Township High School
Holy Redeemer stats — Mike Gatusky (9 kills, 1 assist), Michael Conlon (19 assists, 1 kill), John Carr (7 kills), Chris Mennig (6 kills, 2 blocks), Alex Kotch (7 digs).
Northeastern stats — Philip White (14 kills, 5 aces, 3 blocks, 2 digs), Matt Schaeffer (34 assists, 3 blocks), Reese Devilbiss (9 kills, 3 aces, 3 blocks, 2 assists), Brandon Arentz (7 kills, 4 digs, 1 block), Matt Thornton (5 kills, 3 blocks), Jeff Reynolds (3 kills, 3 blocks).