UNIVERSITY PARK -- Deer Lakes assistant coach Terry Gaston had one request of head coach Rick Tatrn after the Lancers claimed the PIAA Class AA title Saturday at Penn State University's Multi-Purpose Facility.
"Terry asked me if he could give Jeremy his gold medal," said Tatrn, referring to Gaston's son, a four-year starter who led the Lancers to a WPIAL title one week earlier. "It was quite appropriate to have Terry put that medal around Jeremy's neck because Terry was a member of the school's only other state championship team."
Terry Gaston was the setter on the 1978 Deer Lakes team that won WPIAL and PIAA titles. Many believe that was the most talented boys volleyball team in PIAA history.
"I no longer have bragging rights," Terry Gaston said. "It was such an emotional moment to see Jeremy record the final kill and celebrate the state title.
"It was even more emotional today than it was when we won the title. It's an incredible feeling to see your son win a state title. I'm so proud of him and his teammates."
Jeremy Gaston and his Deer Lakes teammates claimed the PIAA Class AA crown with a 3-0 sweep of District 10 champion Saegertown in the title match. It was a significant improvement on the quarterfinal round-robin match against Saegertown in which the Lancers dropped two of three games to the Panthers.
"We let Saegertown get in our heads a little bit yesterday," Deer Lakes junior Tony Nicotra said after Saturday's victory. "They are a very cocky team that, once they get going, they get loud and get their crowd into it. When that happens, they are tough to beat."
Saegertown defeated Deer Lakes, 25-18 and 25-19, in the first two games in pool play, but the Lancers rallied to claim the third game, 26-24.
"We came out slow in our first match against Saegertown and they took advantage," Jeremy Gaston said. "We finally heated up in game three and won that one. That showed us that we could beat them. Today, we came out and smashed. It felt good."
In the championship match, Deer Lakes scored the first four points and led, 10-2, before Saegertown knew what hit it. The Lancers went on to sweep the Panthers, 25-20, 25-19, and 25-17.
Gaston led Deer Lakes with 13 kills in the title match, including the final kill.
"As soon as we got the last point, it hit me that we were state champions," Jeremy Gaston said. "It feels great, especially to get the last kill. When we got to game point, I told my setter that I want this one. I just hit the ball as hard as I could. It was exciting. I've been waiting to do that for a long time."
Nicotra added nine kills and eight blocks in the championship match. Senior setter Charlie Tindall had 33 assists and seven blocks.
"A year ago, I didn't think we could make it this far," Tindall said. "All the hard work we put in during the offseason paid off."
Tatrn believed this team had what it took to win a state title, but had his doubts after the round-robin loss to Saegertown.
"I had a hunch that we would win," Tatrn said. "I knew we would have to get lucky and would have to play our best. When we lost twice to Saegertown on Friday and had to play Northeastern in the semifinals, I had my doubts. I wasn't sure what to expect. The key was to come out strong in the first game [against Northeastern]."
Northeastern was the defending champion and a strong favorite to repeat. The Bobcats dominated the quarterfinal round robin, with their only loss coming with the second-team on the court.
"We waited to play Northeastern all year," Jeremy Gaston said. "We thought we would see them in the finals. We just had to beat them earlier."
And that's what Deer Lakes did. But it wasn't easy, as Northeastern, located in Manchester, York County, posted a 29-27 victory in the first game.
"We were certainly disappointed with the first loss to Northeastern, but realized that they needed 29 points to beat us," Jeremy Gaston said. "The second game, we came out firing and were able to beat them in five games."
Deer Lakes won the second game, 25-20, then lost game three, 26-24. With their season on the brink, the Lancers rallied to win the final two games, 25-23 and 15-12.
"No one gave us a chance against Northeastern," Nicotra said. "No one thought we could play with them, so losing by two with extra points [in the first game] was actually a confidence boost for us. It showed us that we could play with them."
The semifinal match had Tatrn thinking of his 2009 squad.
"We lost to Northeastern in 2009 in the round-robin," Tatrn said. "We split the first two and lost the third. That put us in the semifinals against Ambridge, the eventual champion. I was afraid the same thing was happening when we lost to Saegertown in the round-robin. The semifinal win really gave us a lot of confidence going into the championship match."
Gaston had 23 kills and 8 blocks in the semifinals, while Nicotra added 22 kills and 5 blocks. Tindall had 55 assists.
Gaston and Nicotra were named co-MVPs for the tournament. The two were joined on the PIAA All-Tournament Team by Tindall and junior Sean McTigue.
"It would be a good story to go out as a state champion, but I got some nice kids coming back," said Tatrn, when asked if this would be his final season of coaching. "We will be real competitive next year.
"As long as my health is good, I will continue coaching. Having such an incredible coaching staff makes that decision very easy."