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Dallastown boys' volleyball fought through some of the best teams in the state to reach the final of the Koller Classic at Central York High School Saturday, April 22, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com

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Even though Tom Beakler had a talented team, he never expected the Dallastown boys' volleyball team to be great early in the season.

It just doesn't work that way.

It didn't work that way when Beakler led a powerhouse program at Northeastern, when the Bobcats won their first two state championships.

And Beakler, 71, knew it would not work that way in his first season back in coaching after taking off 21 years from coaching boys' programs.

It all has to do with his coaching style.

"We hope we can just keep improving," Beakler said. "We go in the gym and we try to teach fundamentals and we don't worry about everything else early. We bring them along as the season goes."

The longer the season goes, the sharper his team becomes.

That was evident with Dallastown's surprise run in the Koller Classic, knocking off some of the top-ranked teams in the state to reach the final.

Dallastown, which stands at 9-2 overall and 6-2 in YAIAA play, now turns its attention to this weekend's Wildcat Invitational. The tournament weekend kicks off with a 10-team junior varsity tournament Friday before the main event — the 20-team varsity tournament, which begins play Saturday morning.

State-ranked Class 3A teams Central Dauphin (No. 3), Penn Manor (No. 7) and Pennsbury (No. 9) will take the court against YAIAA foes Dallastown, Dover, Eastern York, New Oxford, Red Lion, Susquehannock and West York.

MORE WILDCATS:Hempfield edges Dallastown in Koller Classic

"We're hoping to ride last week into this week," Beakler said, "but it will be tough."

• • •

Beakler coached Northeastern boys' volleyball from 1981-1995, but behind the scenes it was a hectic schedule.

He operated water treatment plants around York County during a 45-year career. He operated 12 different facilities, including as many as seven at one time. He would wake most mornings at 3 or 4 a.m. He'd arrive in Manchester at Northeastern High School around 4 or 5 p.m., and if he was lucky he'd get to bed by 9 p.m.

"I wouldn't have the energy for that now, but I put my energy into this now," Beakler said about re-entering the coaching field only after retiring from his full-time job in 2015.

Even after he left head coaching, Beakler attempted to stay around the game.

He scouted for Northeastern. He attended games. He coached Northeastern's girls' volleyball team for a pair of seasons.

Still, he notes he had to adapt.

"When I left volleyball, it was a sideout game," Beakler said. "It was a totally different game. It's become more of an offensive game. The kids are different, they act differently. But in 20 years, a lot changes."

He surrounded himself with knowledgeable assistants. Dallastown assistant coach Jeff Fry played under him at Northeastern in 1987. Another assistant, Jeff Johnson, joined him after telling Beakler about five years ago that if Beakler wanted to return to coaching he would assist him.

"That's what's really making this program, the coaches I have are fantastic,"  Beakler said. "We don't agree on everything, but we work it out. When you have coaches that have coached as much as we have, you're not going to agree on everything. If you do, you're lying to each other."

So Dallastsown started at ground zero. They preached fundamentals. They expected slow improvement.

"It takes awhile," Beakler said. "It's a culture. It's hard for some kids to believe, and its hard to get them over the hill."

• • •

Right now, Dallastown is there. They believe.

They've seen the improvement despite no changes in personnel.

"It was the coaching staff, in my opinion," Dallastown junior Brian Bixler said. "They've pushed it into us that we can do something, we just need to work on fundamentals and we'll be great."

It's not so much that Dallastown defeated some state-ranked teams at the Koller Classic.

It dismantled them.

In pool play, it rolled through defending Class 3A state champions and currently No. 1-ranked Hempfield 25-14, 25-16.

"It's hard to get kids to believe that fundamentals are the way to go, but they're starting to believe now," Beakler said.

And that's the main reason he's back in the game and back coaching.

"The reward is the friendship of the coaches, the parents and these kids," Beakler said. "And the real reward is seeing kids do something they don't think they can do."

Wildcat Invitational

What: 20-team boys' volleyball field

When: Saturday

Where: Dallastown High School

State-ranked teams: Central Dauphin, Dallastown, Penn Manor and Pennsbury

YAIAA teams: Dallastown, Dover, Eastern York, New Oxford, Red Lion, Susquehannock and West York

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