STATE COLLEGE — Match point in a state title is a difficult thing to come by. It’s something that had eluded the Meadville boys volleyball team for 55 years.
It proved to be quite the challenge again on Saturday in the Bulldogs’ PIAA Class 2A championship match against York Suburban at Penn State University’s Pegula Ice Arena.
“Every time, especially in the third game when they rallied back, it just seemed like the ball was never hitting the floor,” Meadville senior outside hitter Aiden Miller said. “We had one play that took two minutes alone.”
Eventually, the ball did hit the floor, and that elusive match point was scored as the Bulldogs captured the school’s first PIAA team title since 1964 with a 25-17, 25-19, 16-25, 25-27, 15-13 win over the Trojans.
“Volleyball has a lot of energy in the school now,” Meadville’s first-year head coach Nick Bancroft said. “Next year, we’ll have another good season and get people out to play. It’s great for the town and everyone, especially the guys.”
Meadville had a 2-0 lead after two near flawless performances in the opening sets. In Game 1, Meadville took a 2-1 lead on a York Suburban attack error and never trailed as Aiden Miller slammed home eight of his match-best 32 kills to lead the Bulldogs to a 25-17 lead.
The second set was a bit more challenging, as it has been much of the season for Meadville. But the resilient Bulldogs kept battling, rallying from an 11-6 deficit to tie the match at 16-16.
Meadville took an 18-17 lead on a Trojans service error and cruised from there — again on the hot arm of Miller — to a 25-19 win and a two-game lead.
York Suburban, playing in its first boys volleyball championship game in program history, wasn’t finished, however.
“I was proud of how they dug in and refused to go down without fighting,” York Suburban coach Oliver Good said. “I really thought in the first two sets they were timid, kind of weak, not prepared to play. And I appreciate that they didn’t roll over and quit without a fight.”
Riding the arm of their hot hitter, Messiah College recruit Nate Bowman, the Trojans bounced back to take a 17-9 lead in the third set. Meadville did rally back to cut that deficit to just four (19-15). But the Trojans held on for the 25-16 win and some life.
Then, it got exciting.
Meadville was in charge in the fourth set. Again, another strong effort by Miller and some huge defensive plays by freshman Julian Jones and libero Brendan Leech had the Bulldogs up 23-16 and just two points from clinching the title.
But Bowman was just heating up. Meanwhile, nothing the Bulldogs were offering offensively was hitting the floor. A block by Bowman helped ignite a 6-0 run that put the Trojans down by just one (23-22). Then came match point No. 1 for the Bulldogs when a net violation put Meadville up 24-22.
YS tied it up at 24 on back-to-back kills by Bowman, but an error on their ensuing serve gave Meadville its second match point of the day. Bowman spoiled it with a kill to knot it up at 25-25.
Meanwhile, nothing was dropping for the Bulldogs.
The Trojans’ 5-foot-7 setter Noah Chojnacki dumped the ball over to give YS the lead and Bowman finished with a kill to tie the match at two sets each.
“We challenged Nate to take over,” Good said. “He has the capability of doing that every match that he plays. I don’t think we changed anything tactically (in the fourth set) as much as attitude — commitment to make the play, commitment to play as a team.”
But in the face of adversity, the Bulldogs picked up their heads.
A kill by Tucker Watson gave Meadville the initial lead in Game 5. A block by Miller made it 2-0. But after a kill by Declan Ridings and a block by Bowman the winner-takes-all set was knotted at 2.
Meadville did retake the lead and forced YS to take a timeout with the Bulldogs up 5-2. But it wasn’t long before the match was tied back up at 6. It went back and forth from there until the Bulldogs went on a 3-0 run late to take a 14-10 lead — match point No. 3 on the day.
A kill by Declan made it 14-11. Errors on back-to-back kill attempts then made it 14-13. Then, finally, Miller cashed in.
The celebration was on.
“They don’t make errors,” Good said. “They play a very, very clean game. I think that just frustrated us. We were taking big swing after big swing and they were hitting it up and hitting it back at us.
“If you look at their service errors and hitting errors, they are very, very low numbers. They are a very consistent team and I that can frustrate really good teams. And I think we just got too frustrated.”
Meadville had just eight service errors in the match. The Bulldogs hit .215 as a team with no players in the negative. They collected a whopping 83 digs as a unit with five players in double figures.
Miller had 10 digs to go with his 32 kills. Watson was next with 11 kills followed by Jones with seven. Brendan Leech led the defense with 22 digs. Jones had 16 digs with Paul Leech adding 15 to go with his 51 assists. Mark Conrad had 10 digs and five assists.
The match was just the second five-setter Meadville had played all season. And it was the only time in which the Bulldogs lost the fourth set. The Bulldogs finish the year at 20-0. York Suburban ends the season at 17-4.