York, PA -
Thursday marked what was technically senior night for the Northeastern boys' volleyball team -- even though it came a week before the home finale and likely YAIAA showdown with Central York.
Facing a team from Kennard-Dale that entered Thursday's matchup in third place, the host Bobcats (11-1, 9-0) demonstrated just how far that is from first or second in the standings. Their 25-13, 25-14, 25-18 sweep of the Rams left little doubt but plenty of dissatisfaction.
Northeastern coach Matt Wilson's voice carried from the locker room. Eighteen service errors and numerous unforced mistakes quelled the mood shortly after win.
Those are the expectations for a PIAA contender. Expectations that weren't lost on Wilson when one of his four seniors, Malik Jefferson, tried out for the team last year.
Jefferson, a 6-footer who only played football, was talked into tryout just a little more than a year ago. Two of his friends on the team, the graduated Tanner Sweitzer and junior Matt Hollinger recruited him.
"It took a little bit. Maybe two or three times to get him to like it," Hollinger said. "Once he started coming he got used to it and realized it's a pretty fun sport."
At the time, Hollinger thought they were "desperate for a middle hitter." Hardly any experienced players returned from teams that won a state championship in 2010 and lost in the semifinals in 2011. Wilson had his doubts.
"This isn't an easy program or sport to just pick up and be good at," Wilson said. "You don't just come out."
But Jefferson showed up and came back during open gyms in December 2011. He came back again, and again.
Wilson still wasn't a believer when last season began, but Jefferson's work ethic slowly convinced the coach. By the time Northeastern played eventual league champ York Suburban, the coach was convinced Jefferson earned his spot.
"I'm surprised at how fast I progressed from last year to this year," Jefferson said. "I can see my improvement, and it's pretty cool to look back and compare last year to this year."
He remembers learning the game and struggling with his approach around the net or to set up a teammate. Such a problem was overcome because, as Jefferson said, "I play the middle. I don't pass."
Jobs like that belong to Luke Braswell. The junior had 31 assists in beating the Rams. Jefferson contributed nine kills, second only to fellow senior Stephen Braswell's 12. To get those kills, attacking the net, Jefferson believes his greatest improvement has been his vertical leaping; about 8 inches to be exact. His coach only questions how good Jefferson would be had he played four years. What Wilson doesn't question is the improvement. Jefferson has improved so much in a little more than a year that Wilson doesn't see anyone in the YAIAA who's made greater leaps -- figuratively and literally.
"You'd have to go a long way," he said, "to prove to me someone's improved more than Malik Jefferson."
NORTHEASTERN 3, KENNARD-DALE 0
(25-13, 25-14, 25-18)
Northeastern stats -- Luke Braswell 31 assists, 3 digs, 3 kills; Stephen Braswell 12 kills, 5 aces, 9 digs, Reese Devilbiss 7 kills, 6 digs, Malik Jefferson 9 kills, 2 digs, Casey Winand 6 kills.