High School Sports

High school volleyball: Northeastern rolls to third straight PIAA title

The Northeastern boys’ volleyball team celebrates its third straight PIAA Class AA championship with fans at Rec Hall on Saturday.
The Northeastern boys’ volleyball team celebrates its third straight PIAA Class AA championship with fans at Rec Hall on Saturday. CDT photo

Watching the Northeastern boys’ volleyball team is like watching a top small-college program.

The Bobcats are a well-oiled machine, could hardly do any wrong and Saegertown had no answer.

The Panthers were overwhelmed by Northeastern 25-9, 25-22, 25-12 Saturday morning at Rec Hall in the PIAA Class AA Championship.

Reese Devilbiss’ 14 kills, two blocks and two aces led the Bobcats (23-0) as they hit .415 as a team in a match that took less than an hour.

The program earned its third straight state crown, the fourth in six seasons and sixth in program history.

Needless to say, they are feeling pretty confident and unbeatable.

“Honestly, we could play AAA teams,” said setter Matt Schaeffer, who had 32 assists. “(Class AAA finalist) Fox Chapel we haven’t seen to prove ourselves. Honestly, throughout the season we proved ourselves already we’re the virtually best team in the state.”

Northeastern lost only four sets all season, all in tournaments and two of them to Class AAA winner Parkland.

Philip White added 11 kills and three blocks for the Bobcats, Brandon Arentz had seven kills, Jeff Reynolds posted six kills and Matt Thornton put up three blocks.

Senior twins Brandon and Alex Barclay led the Panthers with eight and six kills, respectively, while Garrett Johnston had nine digs and Trevor Pavlik gave out 15 assists.

Northeastern is not an intimidating bunch in appearance, with the tallest player at 6-foot-4 and two more at 6-3, but the team works together as a unit, has solid serving and passing, and the Bobcats hit from a number of hitting zones.

“We play with such speed, and we have a plethora of attackers,” coach Matt Wilson said. “This team isn’t built around one individual. We’ve got guys that didn’t see the floor that can execute at a high level.”

The Panthers, from the Erie area, had rolled through most of their competition this season, but they admitted the state champs played at another level.

“They exploited a lot of our weaknesses and we haven’t seen teams do that before,” Alex Barclay said. “They shut me down, for sure. I couldn’t get around a lot of their blocks and stuff. They’re definitely a very good team.”

The Bobcats dominated the first set, surging to a 17-5 lead and cruising. The Panthers had just five kills in the entire game. Devilbiss, a 6-2 junior committed to Ohio State, had six kills in the frame.

“Their experience here, in this particular match really shined through,” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said. “That first game we came out extremely nervous.”

Northeastern looked ready to sweep the match with another big lead in the second game, but the Panthers fought off five set points before the Bobcats locked it up.

That was the only time the team struggled all day, as they dominated again in the third, with a back-row quick set to Devilbiss giving them a 17-7 lead, and White and Thornton teamed up to block Alex Barclay on the final point to lock up the trophy.

“Since seventh and eight grade we’ve just been with each other,” White said. “… I just grew up with these guys. They’re my family.”