STATE COLLEGE - They waited in single file, hands on hips and heads bowed, while the sounds of celebration echoed around them. York Suburban's boys' volleyball players watched the mob form on the other side of the net, a throng of Bethlehem Catholic volleyball players and fans crammed into a single, screaming mass.
The Trojans waited for the final formalities of their season - the handshakes, the medal presentations, the bus ride back home.
They waited knowing their dream campaign, the best in their program's history, had finished without the one trophy they wanted most - a state title.
York Suburban fell one match short of that goal on Saturday afternoon. Bethlehem Catholic was bigger and - on this day - simply better, during the Trojans' 3-1 defeat, 23-25, 25-21, 25-20, 26-24, in the PIAA Class AA championship match at Penn State's Multi-Sport Indoor Facility. Suburban was the second YAIAA victim the Golden Hawks claimed on the day - Bethlehem Catholic also beat Dover, 3-1, in the semifinals.
The Trojans met their end with typical defiance, in the form of a frenzied rally during their fourth-and-final game. Suburban erased a late, five-point deficit to tie the set.
It looked like their charmed season might have one more chapter.
But after so many comebacks - including a Houdini-esque, five-set semifinal victory against Ambridge - York Suburban couldn't muster a final push.
"I feel like that's why it hurts a little more," Trojans junior Brad Hartshorne said. "We felt it coming again. We got excited."
The defeat denied the YAIAA its third state title in as many years. Central York won the Class AAA crown last season, on the heels of Northeastern's Class AA win in 2010.
Still, even in the aftermath of defeat, Suburban's players found solace in the breadth of their accomplishments. The Trojans, led by eight seniors and six returning starters, did not drop a set in YAIAA regular season play this season.
Suburban spent much of the campaign ranked No. 1 in the state by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association - high praise for a program previously unheralded at the state level.
"Second in the state is something is no team at York Suburban has done," senior outside hitter Jaryd Eshler said. "It's great to be a part of that."
"They have everything to be proud of," Trojans coach Jamie Evans added.
Especially considering how much they had to scrape just to make the finals. York Suburban got everything it could handle from Ambridge and its 6-foot-4 sophomore Lee Smith, who hammered kill after kill through the Trojans defense.
The Bridgers took a 2-1 lead courtesy of a thrilling, 31-29 victory in Game 3, and even forced a match point, 24-23, in Game 4. Senior Ted Hinnenkamp erased that with a kill, and an Ambridge error a few points later gave York Suburban a 27-25 victory.
Then, after trailing much of Game 5, the Trojans exploded for seven unanswered points to close out a 15-10 win and clinch a spot in the final.
"Losing two games and being able to come back like that?" setter Kody Deiter said. "It's just incredible."
Bethlehem Catholic, the No. 2-ranked team in the state, had no such issues during a 25-15, 24-26, 25-13, 25-11, semifinal win over Dover.
The Golden Hawks carried over that clinical play to the championship. Even after a victory in Game 1 seemed to steer momentum York Suburban's way, Bethlehem Catholic never seemed to waver from its powerful, methodic style. Four Golden Hawks players finished with at least nine kills, led by 6-foot-3 senior Kyle Michalski's 18. Hinnenkamp had a team-high 13 kills for Suburban.
More importantly, Bethlehem Catholic's towering front line - four players 6-foot-2 or taller - walled off Suburban's hitters. When a Trojans' kill attempt did get through, somebody was usually there to dig it up.
"Their block was huge," Evans said. "They were timing it just perfect. Our hitters kept saying they were just popping up on them. They didn't see it.
Added Eshler: "They just kept blocking, kept blocking, to the point where you go 'What am I supposed to do?'"
Bethlehem Catholic pulled away to a 21-16 lead in Game 4. The fatigue from the weekend - mental and physical - seemed to show in Suburban's play.
Then, the Trojans mounted one last flurry. They scored six of the next seven points to tie the set at 22, then warded off a match point to knot it at 24.
"We went out fighting," Hartshorne said.
But Michalski ripped a kill to put Bethlehem Catholic back in front, and Eshler's attempt the following point sailed wide. A group of Golden Hawks students leapt down from the stands to celebrate with the team. Suburban lined up in silence and waited for the post-game handshake.
That disappointment would linger as the team packed up its gear and prepared for the ride home, but so would the pride of the season that preceded it. After a campaign packed with high expectations, the Trojans left State College with a trophy and - they hope - a new standard for their program's future.
"Even a silver medal can't be taken away," Hartshorne said. "The memories will last."
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
YORK SUBURBAN 3, AMBRIDGE 2
(20-25, 25-17, 29-31, 27-25, 15-10)
York Suburban stats -- Fred Gard (13 kills, 3 blocks, 28 digs, 1 assist), Jaryd Eshler (15 kills, 1 block, 21 digs, 2 aces), Jacob Kauffman (11 kills, 5 blocks, 6 digs, 2 aces), Ted Hinnenkamp (19 kills, 3 blocks, 5 digs, 1 ace), Brad Hartshorne (5 kills, 6 blocks, 5 digs), Kody Deiter (18 digs, 2 aces, 58 assists), Justin Corsa (17 digs, 2 assists), Wyatt Grossman (5 digs).
Ambridge stats -- Lee Smith (40 kills, 4 aces, 4 blocks), Andrew Stojan (16 digs), Justin Gleason (63 assists), Brandon Buck (15 kills).
Bethlehem Catholic def. York Suburban, 25-23, 25-21, 20-25, 26-24
BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC 3,
YORK SUBURBAN 1
(23-25, 25-21, 25-20, 26-24)
York Suburban stats -- Fred Gard (5 kills, 21 digs), Jaryd Eshler (8 kills, 1 block, 8 digs), Jacob Kauffman (10 kills, 3 blocks, 3 digs, 3 aces), Ted Hinnenkamp (13 kills, 4 blocks, 3 digs, 1 ace), Brad Hartshorne (10 kills, 5 blocks, 1 dig), Kody Deiter (1 kill, 2 blocks, 14 digs, 43 assists), Justin Corsa (4 digs), Wyatt Grossman (3 digs), Gage Markey (1 dig).
Bethlehem Catholic stats -- George Atiyeh (9 kills, 2 aces), Joshua Chudyk (9 kills, 4 blocks), Kyle Michalski (18 kills), Evan Blair (11 kills, 3 blocks), Bryan Brown (4 kills, 46 assists).
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