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Central York returns to PIAA boys' volleyball title match

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The Central York Panthers are back where they belong — competing for a Class 3A state boys' volleyball championship.

Central York beat Emmaus 3-1 (22-25, 25-15, 25-23, 27-25) on Tuesday night in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals. The match was played at Exeter Township High School in Reading.

The Panthers now advance to Saturday's championship. They'll play North Allegheny, which was a 3-1 winner over Central Dauphin, at 1 p.m. in Rec Hall on the campus of Penn State University. 

More Central York: Panthers win District 3 Class 3A title

Central York is searching for its seventh state title in boys' volleyball. The Panthers' last state championship came in 2014, when the team beat North Allegheny 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-19) to take home the Class 3A crown.

They return following an emphatic win Tuesday night. Emmaus was a big, athletic team that provided its fair share of challenges to the Panthers. In short, it was a good matchup between the No. 1 (Central York) and the No. 2 (Emmaus) ranked teams in the state.

"When we were preparing for them in the past two practices, coach said that they are probably the most similar team to us that we faced all season," Central York senior setter Carter Luckenbaugh said. "We knew we had to play a really good match today. Blocking-wise, they're really athletic and they can serve really well."

Both teams laid it on the line, and each crowd was animated in an emotional and intense contest from start to finish. Emmaus led 23-21 and 24-23 in a back-and-forth fourth game before Central rebounded to tie the score.

Cole Johnson's kill put the finishing touches on the match, as the Panthers rushed the floor in celebration.

"I guess it was an interesting match to watch if if you're not involved in it. Nerve-racking," Central York head coach Todd Goodling said. "I thought we just gutted points out. And that was the question I had about this team at the beginning of the year. I knew we would be good. I didn't know how tough we would be. Whether we'd be willing to be able to find a way to win. And they've done that a bunch this year."

Said Luckenbaugh: "It's a lot of pressure, but you can't really think of it like that. If you think of it as a really big match, you'll probably overthink it and not play as well. So you just got to go out there and take every match the same. Just play to the best of your ability, and that's what we did."

Goodling said playing against District 3 competition throughout the season helped prepare the Panthers. He pointed to contests against Central Dauphin, Hempfield, Penn Manor and Northeastern as being good training ground for the program.

Emmaus head coach Ken Dunkle concurred with that assessment.

"Central York's a great team, we knew it was going to be a tough battle," Dunkle said. "We haven't been pushed very hard all season. I think that was probably our biggest issue tonight. There were times when we were getting pushed, we started playing safe." 

Following Tuesday's victory, Central York players hung out on the court and in the bleachers, reveling in the opportunity to return to the state championship. Senior leaders said it's been the goal to return to the title match since their 2014 freshman campaign. Senior libero Zak Kakos said none of the current players got court time in that title tilt three years ago.

"Since our freshman year, we have seven seniors, and it's been our dream to get to that point," hitter Ben Seebold said. "It's our last year all together. It's really special for us to play together, one last time, for a state title."

After dropping the first frame, the Panthers won Game 2 decidedly. 

Game 3 was tight, with the team getting clutch kills from Johnson and Braden Richard to take it down the stretch.

Emmaus got off to a 7-3 lead at the outset of Game 4, before Central battled back to a 7-7 tie. It was nip and tuck from there.

The Panthers got 17 kills from Johnson and 9 from Drew Anderson. Seebold had 2.5 blocks while Luckenbaugh had 9 digs and 52 assists.

Emmaus got 19 kills from James Haag and nine more from Carson Landis. Matt Swanson had four blocks and Cameron Parsons had 43 assists. Jacob Rumfield led the way with 14 digs for the Hornets.

"This is the reason why we play. To win championships," Luckenbaugh said. "It just feels amazing to (play) in the last match of the year."