Zephyrs first loss comes at states
Whitehall’s march to a state volleyball championship was halted last Saturday after a valiant comeback bid in which they erased an 0-2 deficit fell just short in the fifth set against Northeastern High School.
Their quarterfinal match pitted them against the Bobcats from District 3 who came in as the district’s second seed, losing to Central York in the finals. They had moved up a classification and were owners of a hefty championship résumé in 2A, winners of the six consecutive state championships.
The Zephyrs arrived at the quarterfinals held at Schuylkill Valley High School by defeating Central High School, sweeping them 25-7, 25-4, 25-11.
When the match began inside the cramped gym, the Zephyrs found themselves trailing, losing the first two sets by identical 25-17 scores.
Once the third set got underway, they got out to a fast start, taking a 4-1 lead after a Joe Herman block. But the Bobcats bounced back and took a 10-7 lead until Nicholas Rex tied it with an ace at 10-10.
The next point gave the Zephs a big boost when Dylan McGinley made a ferocious block at the net, sparking a Bobcat timeout.
Still, the Bobcats fought back and had the lead until the pivotal play of the set. Trailing 16-18, the ball look destined to go out of bounds, but McGinley raced toward the backline and made a remarkable dig which Rick Melsoky turned into a pass that Herman converted into a tip.
It was an improbable play that ultimately changed the momentum. Ian Frankenfield put them on the cusp of victory with two big plays at the net, scoring points on a block and a tip that paved the way for the winning point. From that improbable play, they outscored the Bobcats 9-4 to take the third set.
The fourth set was back-and-forth, but after some late Bobcat errors and some big points from Herman, Melosky sealed the win with an emphatic kill to knot the match at 2-2.
The Zephs quickly fell behind in the tiebreaker, and could never overcome that early deficit as the Bobcats built a 14-7 lead, eventually losing 15-9 to Northeastern who will play Central York again in the semifinals.
Head coach George Cowitch said that Northeastern’s a volleyball powerhouse for a reason and their talent level was on display during the quarters.
“Their lineup has no holes in it at all,” said Cowitch.
He aid that they also didn’t compound their mistakes, something Whitehall did early in the match. However, once they made some adjustments, they put the pressure on the defending 2 A champs.
“We played clean [volleyball] for sure, and we forced them into mistakes,” said Cowitch.
When they arrived at the fifth set to decide the match, Cowitch said that they just made too many errors. And once a team gets behind early in a set that only goes to fifteen, it’s hard to recover.
“It was just too many mistakes on our part,” said Cowitch.
At the end of the volleyball season only one team’s going to be happy, and Whitehall demonstrated why they’ve been a top team in the state all season. They overcame some early adversity and put themselves into position to win.
Their experience, led by the strong senior class, made sure they weren’t going down with a whimper.
Herman said that they weren’t about to hang their heads while facing elimination at the start of the third set.
“Obviously we’re upset we lost, but I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out,” said Herman. “They won states the last six years and we battled hard, and I’m just really proud of all of the guys.”
That pride, forged through years of Eastern Pennsylvania Conference battles, got them to the tiebreaker. They just fell a bit short in their bid to advance.
Cowitch also noted their fortitude in the face of adversity. After calling a timeout in that third set, he told his team, “here it is; it’s now or never.” He said they responded by fighting back and winning that set.
Once they had that first set under their belts, they kept the pressure on the Bobcats, forcing them into some uncharacteristic mistakes. Cowitch said that extending Northeastern to that fifth and deciding set was a testament to their perseverance.
Herman paid tribute to his head coach who had to leave after the third set.
“He’s the reason why we’re here,” said Herman. “He’s the reason that we made it so far and why we’re so good.”
The match was a testament to the skill level of both teams. Aziz Atiyeh (17 digs) was consistently digging their rocket serves and turning them into kill opportunities. The Bobcats had a big frontcourt, but Herman, Melosky, McGinley, Alex Khouri, Hunter Pinkey and Frankenfield all made big blocks at the net against them.
Melosky, who finished with 43 assists, said that the match showcased the enthusiasm and dedication of the Whitehall faithful who came to Leesport to support them.
“It was the most excepting match that we played,” said Melosky. “The crowd was amazing and they brought a lot of energy. We just fell short at the end.”