Posted/Updated: 6/7/2017 11:23:00 AM

Emmaus boys volleyball runs out of gas in PIAA semis vs. Central York

Since the 2017 season even began, Ken Dunkle felt that his Emmaus boys volleyball team had what it took to make a deep run in the state tournament.

The Green Hornets proved him right and nearly got a shot to win it all in the process.

Only the top-ranked team in the state, District 3 champ Central York, could keep No. 2 Emmaus from playing for a state title as the Panthers prevailed for a 3-1 (22-25, 25-15, 25-23, 27-25) win in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals Tuesday night at Exeter Township High School.

“I don’t want to say I’m disappointed,” Dunkle said. “I feel bad for them because I know they’re capable of beating this team. I don’t know that they felt they were at all times. That’s why they started playing safe. I’m super proud of them. I’m not disappointed in them, I’m just disappointed they didn’t believe in themselves a little bit more.”

With their first loss of the season robbing them of a Saturday trip to Penn State, where Central York will take on North Allegheny for the state championship, the Green Hornets finished with a record of 23-1.

Emmaus nearly sent the match to a fifth set, taking leads of 24-23 and 25-24 in the fourth set. But the Panthers found an answer both times and finally reeled off the decisive blow with their final three points coming from junior Cole Johnson.

“It’s really disappointing to go out like this, knowing that the game could have gone either way and how tight we were with this team,” junior outside hitter James Haag said. “But I think we can all walk out of here with our heads up knowing that we had one amazing season. We’re just up there with the best — it was No. 1 vs. No. 2 for a reason. Everybody on our team played their hearts out and played as hard as they could every single point.”

Haag led the Green Hornets with 19 kills (and a .500 hitting percentage) while adding an ace, two blocks and five digs. His strong play provided a spark particularly in an emotionally charged first set, which Emmaus took 25-22.

The Green Hornets couldn’t ride the opening momentum any further, though, as Central York bounced back in the second set and used an 11-4 run to even the match.

“We came out and passed very well,” Haag said. “Our passing off serve receive was amazing and we probably had a 70-percent side-out rate, which is incredible. That really worked for us. We were able to get our hits down and find the spots. But unfortunately they came back and did the exact same thing in the second set and unfortunately our serve receive went down a little bit.”

After Emmaus nearly made a late push to take the third set, the fourth set was a thriller. The Green Hornets took their biggest lead at 7-3, but after the Panthers came back to tie it at 12, neither took led by more than two points the rest of the way — with ties at 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 23, 24 and 25.

Johnson racked up 26 kills, including a few from the back row, as his powerful swing consistently gave Central York a boost of energy.

“(Johnson) is a big boy and he can put the ball down,” Dunkle said. “But we faced Ben Chinnici (a Ball State recruit from Pennridge) last match. He’s arguably a stronger hitter and actually probably a little bit smarter where he’s putting the ball. I don’t think it was (Johnson) — they’re a great team — (but) it was probably more about how we were playing than how they were playing.”

Senior hitters Carson Landis and Noah Bacon (three aces) each chipped in nine kills apiece for Emmaus. Senior libero Brendan Dunkle added 12 digs and three aces and senior opposite Jacob Rumfield tallied 14 digs and four kills while junior setter Cameron Parsons dished out 43 assists.

For a group that won EPC and District 11 titles, the Green Hornets came up just short of getting a crack at a third and ultimate trophy.

“There were times we battled really well and then there were other times, like at the end of that game, where we played a little too conservative,” Ken Dunkle said. “You can’t play conservative against a team like this. You gotta bring it, pretty much the whole time. I’m still proud of the guys, we had a great season and went deep into states, which is what our goal was. I think they just should have had a little bit more confidence in their ability and I think it probably would have gone a little bit differently.”

While five seniors (four in the starting lineup) are set to graduate, Emmaus will still return a solid core next year. With the bar set high, the underclassmen will be hungry to make another run at state gold.

“I feel we’ll still be a very good team next year and a threat for the title,” Haag said. “There’s no reason why we can’t do it again and be this good, but it’s going to take some work. We’re going to miss our (seniors) a lot.”


Questions/Comments? Contact Scott Trumbauer