DALLASTOWN — It wasn’t easy, but make that 14 District Three volleyball championships for Hempfield’s boys’ volleyball program.
The Black Knights won their first Class 3A crown since 2013 on Friday night, spotting No. 1 seed Cumberland Valley the first game before rallying for a 3-1 win behind a superb defensive effort and some clutch hitting in front of a raucous crowd at Dallastown High School.
Game scores were 21-25, 25-22, 25-17 and 25-22, as Hempfield, the No. 2 seed, topped the No. 1-ranked team in the state. The Mid-Penn champ Eagles made relatively quick work of the Knights in the first game, but after that, it was all Hempfield, which added a D3 title to its Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One and league championship titles already this season.
The Knights, ranked No. 2 in the state behind CV heading into districts, open PIAA tournament play on Tuesday against the District One third-place finisher in the East bracket, at a site and time to be announced.
“It’s really hard to win one of these, it really is,” Hempfield coach Mike Vogel said after his team received gold medals and the championship trophy. “So it’s absolutely nice to win another district title. The kids and the staff have worked really hard for this. We’ve stressed improvement. This is the payoff for improving.”
Hempfield got off a rocky start against CV, which rode Blake Liprando’s hot right hand to a first-set win. Liprando, an outstanding leaper and spike specialist, had eight kills in the first game, including the game-clinching spike.
But the deficit didn’t phase Hempfield.
“I thought we ended the first game with some great momentum,” Knights’ senior middle hitter Gavin Hanzelman said. “I know we lost, but we were down like 17-8 and finished up 25-21. So I thought we had the momentum. We talked about staying positive because it certainly wasn’t over yet.”
Not by a long shot.
Two things happened in the second set: First, Hempfield picked up its defense, digging balls out in the back row and picking it up in the block department at the net. Second, the Knights’ hitters found their groove; Ian Flood delivered a couple of key kills, and Hanzelman and Elliot De La Torre both had clutch spikes.
“The message was to play within yourself,” Vogel said. “Stop making dumb errors, let the defense fly and start blocking. And then, everyone started playing. And we started stopping No. 6 (Liprando).”
In the third game, De La Torre, Flood and Hanzelman had consecutive kills to close out the set, giving Hempfield a 2-1 lead. CV made it interesting in the fourth game, taking a 21-19 lead when Liprando blocked Flood’s spike attempt at the net.
But Hanzelman had back-to-back kills, the latter giving the Knights a 22-21 lead, and Ian Willig and Zach Wilson had consecutive clutch hits to close it out for Hempfield, who made it lucky No. 14.
“Our defense really picked it up,” Vogel noted. “When we get our blocks set up in the middle, our defense is really good.”
The Knights’ defense was outstanding Friday, stymieing CV more and more the deeper the games went.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Hanzelman, who had a team-best 18 kills. “We lost (to Penn Manor) here in our sophomore year, so going into this one, we’ve all been working so hard and we’ve been playing really well. So we knew we had to do this. We haven’t had the trophy in Landisville in five years, so we wanted to bring this one home for the fans.”
Cayden Musso dished off 47 assists and added 10 digs, Flood had 10 dis and a pair of blocks, Wilson had 10 kills and 13 digs and Mason Scott chipped in with 11 digs for Hempfield.