Column: Northeastern stays humble while making history
Northeastern boys' volleyball is attempting to win its fourth consecutive state championship when it plays Saturday in the PIAA title game at Rec Hall in State College. The Bobcats will once again be supported by a large group of faithful followers.
Five years ago, a group of eighth-graders were getting ready to enter high school at Northeastern. While many expected big things for these five volleyball players —who later added a sixth member — it’s hard to envision they would one day be on the cusp of history.
But on Saturday, Bobcats Chris Lee, Drew Landis, Matt Schaeffer, Jeff Reynolds, Brandon Arentz and Reese Devilbiss will play for their fourth straight PIAA Class AA championship.
Four state titles in four years? You just can’t be any more successful than that.
Northeastern coach Matt Wilson was studying video when reached for this column. In typical Wilson fashion, he was quick to point out they didn’t win No. 4 yet. But he said when those five players entered school, and were later joined by Reynolds, he knew it was going to be an interesting run. Still, even he didn’t expect anything like this.
“I didn’t know we would be on the precipice of four straight state championships, but we figured there would be a state champion in there,” he said. “But here we stand staring at this fourth one. We pulled off a huge win and that set the standard.”
That win in 2013 was against a physically imposing team in Ambridge, which Northeastern knocked off in the finals the next season, as well. Guess who happens to be the Bobcats’ opponent on Saturday? You got it, Ambridge.
How dominating has Northeastern been? In those last three state finals, Northeastern has lost only one set, a 23-25 second game to the Bridgers in 2013. A sweep in 2014, followed by a sweep of Saegertown last season, one that included giving up only nine points in one game.
That is simply mind boggling.
If successful on Saturday, Northeastern would be the first to win four straight since boys’ volleyball divided into two classifications.
The last to do it was Hempfield, which won in 2001-2004, and 2006-2007. The Black Knights will also be in action on Saturday, facing L-L rival Penn Manor in the Class AAA finals. In many ways, it’s Hempfield, that has provided much of the motivation for Wilson.
“The run that Hempfield had, we were part of that run on the losing side of it (in the semifinals),” Wilson said. “We had beaten all the other squads; we just couldn’t beat Hempfield. I remember being on the other side of that conversation, thinking about how to get there.”
So how does Northeaster keep doing it?
Wilson said that aside from the jokes he hears about it must be something in the water in the Manchester-Mount Wolf area, it’s a dedication to the sport, a passion that drives kids to play any position the team needs him to play.
It’s a true program — and it’s so much more than volleyball. It’s about respect for all things. Case in point: The way Bobcat players and coaches stand in unison with hands over their hearts for the national anthem.
“That’s probably as special — or more special — as winning state championships,” Wilson said, adding that many people let him know how much they appreciate that simple gesture.
Individually, all six of the aforementioned seniors could land on the Class AA all-state team. It’s hard for me to envision any other players being better at their jobs.
Certainly, no one is better than Devilbiss, arguably the best volleyball player in York County history — and there have been many great ones.
Devilbiss is so good, even his opponents love him. For example, after Northeastern romped Crestwood in the opening round of states, a couple of the opposing players asked Devilbiss to autograph their game ball.
“Usually when you are a really great player there’s a part of people that want them to be a villain. Reese doesn’t play the villain,” Wilson said. “He’s extremely humble. He is very driven. That is my favorite attribute of Reese Devilbiss. He — and his teammates — have that.”
Humble while making history. Now there’s something to be proud of.
PIAA Class AA volleyball championship game
Who: Northeastern vs. Ambridge
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Penn State's Rec Hall, State College
Follow live: Get live updates on the action at GameTimePA.com.