Volleyball preview: In loaded YAIAA, who could unseat Northeastern?
Northeastern's reign of dominance might be over.
The key word is might.
At least that was the story in the days before the season opened. But that sentiment might not be completely accurate.
After four years of running through the state of Pennsylvania on the shoulders of the state's best player and current Ohio State freshman Reese Devilbiss, the time has come for Northeastern boys' volleyball to welcome a new core.
More broadly, though, the whole league seems to be shuffling in new talent.
"A lot of our big stars graduated," Central York coach Todd Goodling said about the YAIAA.
Of the seven GameTimePA YAIAA all-stars last season, only two were underclassmen.
"We have a whole new group," Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said about his team.
The Bobcats return two players with experience from last season's state title squad, including senior Dakoda Hoffman (242 kills, 99 blocks). But there is a rather large caveat: Northeastern has some talented up-and-coming players, and junior Cole Brillhart (6-foot-1 outside hitter) has transferred from Red Lion to Northeastern. And there's this … Northeastern went out and defeated the No. 1-ranked Class 2A team in the state, Beaver County Christian School, during its first match of the season.
Wilson said the Bobcats, who now own that No. 1 state ranking, could be battling for third or fourth place in the YAIAA, but Wilson's reason for pause could have a lot to do with his program's inexperienced roster and the Class 3A teams lurking in the YAIAA.
Central York is ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 3A, trailing only North Allegheny out of the WPIAL. Central defeated North Allegheny in tournament pool play during the first weekend of the season, but the Panthers lost in a one-game setting to the District 7 team.
Goodling said his team has matured on the court under the senior leadership of setter Carter Luckenbaugh, meaning the squad has learned to improvise when play is not going as expected. The Panthers are versatile enough to switch to Plan B or Plan C.
But if the state rankings are any indication, District 3 — and the YAIAA — should be loaded. Eight teams from District 3 earned top-10 rankings in the state, including Dallastown at No. 9 in Class 3A.
One of the league's possible title contenders, Dallastown has a new coach in Tom Beakler.
"I'm excited he's back," Goodling said. "He's good for the sport."
Beakler left his mark in Manchester during a lengthy head coaching stint (1995-81, 1976).
"I coached most of Northeastern's coaching staff," Beakler said with a laugh.
He returned to coaching Dallastown after former players asked him to take over at Dallastown.
"I was retired and I didn't want all the free time," Beakler said about his return.
Beakler likes the squad but said he understands patience could be key as the team adjusts to a switch in coaching staffs.
"Northeastern and Central have been the foundation of the league for years and both will be good this year," Beakler said.
Overlooked because of Northeastern's dominating run last season, York Suburban also had a strong season in 2016. Unlike the Bobcats, the Trojans return a powerful core from last year's state final four run.
Four senior starters return. York Suburban returns Jack Schultz, just one of two juniors to earn GameTimePA first-team all-star status a year ago — Hoffman was the other — and David "Izzy" Kinfe will be a force at the net. The Trojans have just one junior, so it's an interesting mix of experienced veterans and new players, including sophomore setter Noah Chojnacki.
Unranked in the preseason and Week 1 state rankings, York Suburban should crack the top 10 considering in its first match it pushed No. 1 Northeastern to five games.
Players to watch
Nick Bowman, sr., York Suburban
Cole Brillhart, jr., Northeastern
Nathan Darr, sr., Dallastown
Dakoda Hoffman, sr., Northeastern
Cole Johnson, jr., Central York
Izzy Kinfe, sr., York Suburban
Carter Luckenbaugh, sr., Central York
Jacob May, sr., West York
Kenton Meckley, sr., West York
Jack Schultz, sr., York Suburban
Avery Terroso, sr. Dallastown
James Toomey, sr., Northeastern
Zach Weinstein, sr., York Suburban