During the middle of the year, it appeared that the Elizabethtown Area High School boys volleyball team was poised for big things in the postseason. However, the Bears faltered down the stretch, and they ultimately competed in just one playoff game. At the same time, 2019 ended up being one of the team’s best seasons in recent memory.
Elizabethtown had its regular season finale at home against Lancaster Mennonite on Wednesday, May 8. The Bears, who were celebrating their Senior Night, had control early in the first set, using two separate 3-0 runs to take a 17-11 lead. The Blazers chipped away though, eventually cutting the score to 22-21. Elizabethtown was at set point late up 24-23, but Lancaster Mennonite scored three straight from there to get the 26-24 win.
The second set was tight for the most part. The Blazers continually held the Bears off, however, and scored four of the last five points to get a 25-20 victory. They led 15-10 midway through the third as well before Elizabethtown scored five straight to tie the game. Lancaster Mennonite regained the lead though, later holding a 24-22 lead for game point. The Bears managed to score two to tie it at 24-24 but couldn’t pull out the win from there, losing 27-25 and giving the Blazers a 3-0 sweep.
Senior Clint Wilson led Lancaster Mennonite with 9 kills. Senior Ben Lefever had 22 assists, while senior Paul Peachey shared the game-high in digs at 16.
Junior Jacques Mortha finished with a game-high 11 kills for Elizabethtown, as did junior Nate Seeger with 28 assists. Senior Nick Chapman put up 9 kills and 13 digs, junior Jake Sevcik tied Peachey with 16 digs, and junior Casey Lyons threw in 4 service aces and 10 digs. The loss put the Bears at 8-8 for the season, their best finish since 2011. However, it also knocked them out of contention for the Class 3A District 3 playoffs.
Elizabethtown had already locked up a spot in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs though, and the team went on the road to face Section One champ Warwick on Friday, May 10. The Warriors handled things in the first set, pulling away for a 25-12 win. They opened the second with an 8-2 run, scoring five straight from there and later posting eight of the last nine points for a 25-8 victory.
To their credit, the Bears didn’t lie down. They took their first lead of the night off a Chapman kill early in the third to go up 8-7. Warwick went back up shortly afterward, going on a 5-0 run and later a 4-0 run to coast to the eventual 25-16 win and a 3-0 sweep. The Warriors went on to beat Penn Manor in the semifinals on Monday, May 13, to set up a championship game against Hempfield for Wednesday, May 15.
“I’m disappointed for the boys,” head coach Lamar Fahnestock said. “I know we wanted to show up more than that, and we did in the beginning of the third game. That’s how we felt we could play with them all night. But they served tough, they moved the ball around well and they’re a great team. When we play well, we can play with them, but when we get into a bit of a lull, they put some distance in. It’s tough to keep your chin up and keep plugging away, so I was proud of how we responded.”
Senior Chad Meeder notched a game-high 9 kills for Warwick, while junior Connor Baer did the same with 26 assists. Mortha and Chapman each had 4 kills for the Bears, with Seeger posting 12 assists.
After a 7-3 start to the season, Elizabethtown lost six of its last seven games, though the loss to Warwick was the only one that they didn’t fully compete in. Part of it was a grueling schedule during the early part of the year; the Bears had 10 games and two tournaments during the first three weeks, leaving them little time to rest. Many players, chiefly Chapman and Lyons, dealt with injuries shortly afterward. They also couldn’t tweak game plans as much during practices given the sheer amount of action.
“We probably only had one or two actual practices in those first few weeks because of the games and tournaments we had stacked up, so we had no chance to make adjustments outside of live gameplay,” Fahnestock said. “The second time around, teams had made adjustments, and we didn’t have a chance to work on anything else. We had chances to put teams away in games, but fatigue and being hesitant did us in. We haven’t developed that real killer instinct yet, but I’m hoping that’s gonna come as they mature into seniors.”
On the other hand, the Bears surprised many by doing as well as they did, given the roster turnover they had at the end of last year. They had just two seniors, Chapman and Gavin Orth, this season, and only three players (Chapman, Mortha and Sevcik) were regular rotation guys in 2018.
But Elizabethtown ended up being balanced across the board. Mortha led the way with 157 kills in addition to 86 digs. Seeger had a tough task in replacing All-Star setter Narvin Chhay but admirably finished with 473 assists overall, tops in Section Two. He also had a team-high 25 service aces, along with 63 kills and 92 digs.
The rest of the team had solid contributions as well. Sevcik led the team with 258 digs and was second behind Seeger with 44 assists. Lyons was a jack of all trades with 69 kills, 78 digs and 16 service aces. Sophomore Rudy Woitas finished third in kills with 86 in his first year of varsity action. Junior Gavin Gilhool, new to the sport, had a team-high 28 blocks, getting 70 kills as well.
“They developed into leaders,” Fahnestock said. “I can’t say enough about how Casey has played over the last couple of weeks. Not only was he playing hurt, but he has really grown as a leader. It was a lot to ask Nate to step in for Narvin, and we don’t run a high-outside offense. Everything is quick, and that’s tough to pick up when you haven’t set before. He’s hard on himself, but I think he did a wonderful job. With Chapman, he’s been playing hurt for the last two weeks, and look at the hits he had tonight when we got the ball out to him. He was trying to be a more obvious presence in the back row with his passing and defense. We’ll miss him.”
With a solid group coming back, Elizabethtown has a great chance to jump to the top of Section Two next season. The other three playoff teams will all be experiencing major losses due to graduation (Cocalico and Lancaster Mennonite each have seven seniors this year, while Manheim Central will be losing its best two players in Mason Nissley and Brandyn Musser).
Coupled with nine freshmen potentially developing and junior Tommy Arendt returning from a foot injury that caused him to miss the entire season, the Bears could be a major all-around threat. However, they know that there’s plenty of more work to be done before then.
“We took a step, but we need to make some more,” Fahnestock said. “We talk all the time about success being a staircase. Sometimes you slide back, but you stop yourself and you focus on what’s ahead of you. We need to develop that killer instinct. We’re gonna be ahead in some matches next year, and we’re gonna need to put teams away.”