WILKES-BARRE — Matt Blaum found an open spot in the double block, and let the ball rip. It scorched between the two Archbishop Wood defenders and smashed off the hardwood floor.
As the thunderous sound bounced off the walls of Wilkes’ Marts Center, some of the Vikings cracked a big smile, while others had a look of amazement on their faces.
Welcome to the world of Holy Redeemer volleyball.
The Royals used a powerful attack of Ben Rachilla, Luke Nealon and Blaum to roll past Archbishop Wood, 3-0, in 48 minutes during the opening round of the PIAA Class 2A boys’ volleyball tournament Monday afternoon.
The victory vaults Redeemer into Saturday’s quarterfinals against Manheim Central, which swept by District 12 champ Lansdale Catholic. Time and location hasn’t been released as of press time.
Set scores were 25-6, 25-15 and 25-12.
“I don’t think people realize that this is the first year that Matt Blaum is totally healthy,” said Redeemer head coach Jack Kablick as Blaum finished with eight kills. “He’s playing great – front row, back row, serve, every part of his game, really. He’s a complete player. When Matt’s healthy, this is the kind of player he can be.”
It was clearly evident the young Vikings were overmatched by the experienced Royals. Then again, that was expected coming into the match considering the District 2 champ had already defeated the top two seeds out of District 12, Lansdale Catholic and Academy at Palumbo.
Archbishop Wood, the third-place finisher out of their district, struggled to just handle the Redeemer serve. And that meant the offense couldn’t get into any type of rhythm or put any real threat into the Royals’ charge.
While John Hober took some healthy swings when he had the opportunity, racking up a team-high seven kills, his other Viking teammates managed just a combined two spikes.
“Our guys understood what we were getting into,” AW head coach Harris Boyes said. “Most of our team is underclassmen, so it’s good experience to just be here. We had the same experience the first year of our program where we got handled against North Pocono, and came back the next year and made the state quarterfinals. Hopefully, next year, we can make the next step.”
Redeemer didn’t waste much time to get rolling.
Up 8-3 in the opening set, the Royals and Rachilla quickly put it away. Using a powerful jump-serve that hit all areas of the court, Redeemer ripped off eight straight points with the lengthy junior behind the back line.
As a matter of fact, Kablick’s group won 25 of the 31 points in the opening set, and 75 of the 108 contested for the entire match.
Just 13 minutes into the opening-round game, Redeemer already had a 1-0 lead and appeared in prime position to roll into the state quarterfinals.
“We spent a lot of time preparing for this match,” Rachilla said. “We did a great job tonight of knowing what their hitters bring and what spots they like to hit toward. We played well in the overall scheme of the game.”
It didn’t get much better for the Vikings, either.
Wood found itself down 16-6 to start the second, and Redeemer used a massive run on Blaum’s serve in the final game to open up a 20-7 lead.
“I think that we made a statement in that first set, and pretty much settled it,” Kablick said. “I really didn’t want to look much past Archbishop Wood. They are a great, athletic school. They have some basketball and football championships down there. When you get into states, you never want to take a team lightly.”
It was a pretty balanced attack for the Royals. Rachilla finished with a match-high 12 kills, while Nealon and Blaum combined for 18 spikes. Senior setter Jimmy Stepanski added 22 assists, and libero Mike Mohutsky added 10 digs.
“I think the team always has a little nerves, knowing that it could be your last game,” Rachilla said. “We will prepare pretty hard for the next round, and we will be ready to play on Saturday.”
Northeastern 3, Berwick 0
In their first states appearance since 2007, the Bulldogs lost to perennial powerhouse, Northeastern, 25-9, 25-13, 25-12 in the first round.
Berwick’s Gabe Oliver had four kills and four digs, Dylan Michael recorded five kills and Ethan Potter finished with 12 assists.