Panthers beat North Allegheny to capture PIAA Class 3A state title. (Teddy Feinberg/GameTimePA.com)
STATE COLLEGE -- The Central York Panthers found themselves in familiar territory on Saturday: In the winner's circle, with a PIAA Class 3A boys' volleyball state championship in their grasp.
The Panthers beat North Allegheny 3-1 (20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23) for their seventh state title in program history. The championship match was played in Penn State's Rec Hall.
The last time the Panthers won a state title was 2014, also over North Allegheny. Only a handful of seniors were freshmen on that team.
"We've always felt that we could accomplish this goal," senior libero Zak Kakos said. "I joined the team sophomore year, and from the jump everyone has said we're winning a state championship before we leave. We felt like we had every right to be here and to win this game."
Said senior setter Carter Luckenbaugh: "Last year, I feel like we weren't as tight a team. We obviously ended our season pretty early, losing to Red Lion in the first round of districts. We took that and realized this year had to be different. No matter what our differences are, we had to come together and play as a team on the court."
They embodied that team-first spirit in Saturday's win.
North Allegheny, the District 7 Class 3A champion presented a big challenge for the Panthers. Outside of Central York's formidable 6-7 junior Cole Johnson, the Tigers held a height advantage across the board and had plenty of talent on their side of the net.
"They could put two teams together that are top-10 in state," Central York head coach Todd Goodling said.
Central York came out tentative in the first game and came up short. They made sure not to repeat that trend as the match moved forward.
"I was really proud today that after not a real great start in our first game, that we went back, we played Central volleyball and we stayed aggressive," Goodling said. "And I think you saw that on some big points."
Said Kakos: "After that first set, we came together as a team right away. The conversation went by Carter. We said, we're going to win this in the next three sets. We're not going to step off this court until our side of the scoreboard says 25 first."
The Panthers did in fact rip off three straight wins to grab the state title, although each one went down to the wire.
It appeared the match was destined to go the distance, with North Allegheny ahead 20-18 in the fourth game. But Central never wilted, and took a 24-22 edge. While they came up short on their first chance at a win, the Panthers called timeout and got the final point to come away victorious.
Luckenbaugh was outstanding for the Panthers, running the offense and recording 40 assists.
Johnson also showed his brilliance. His athleticism, strength and ability were on full display. He hit the ball with power throughout and at one point in the fourth game laid out, full extension, to save a ball from hitting the deck.
Johnson is being recruited by the likes of UCLA, USC and Penn State, and certainly played the part on Saturday. Johnson recorded 22 kills, 11 digs and five aces on the day.
"Cole's best attribute is, Cole can not tolerate to lose," Goodling said. "And I think that was evident today."
Johnson confirmed during Saturday's postgame interview session that this weekend marked the anniversary his father, Jeff, won a state title as a member of the Panthers.
"He already said it when he gave me a hug. He was like, 'congratulations. but you're still not better than me,"' Johnson said to a chorus of laughter in the interview room.
Kakos had 22 digs.
For Goodling, it's his first state title as head coach after being lead assistant under long-time head coach Brad Livingston.