It shouldn't have happened -- at least not yet.

But it did happen.

Now the Northeastern boys' volleyball team will need to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

The Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association has ranked the Bobcats No. 1 in the state in Class AA for nearly the entire 2013 season. It's a well-deserved honor. Northeastern has stormed to the York-Adams League regular-season and tournament titles and the District 3-AA crown.

A PIAA state championship -- the fourth in the program's storied history -- is a very real possibility.

The Bobcats knew all along that the road to the state title would likely run through Bethlehem Catholic.

The Golden Hawks, after all, are the defending AA state champions, having knocked off York Suburban in last year's PIAA finals. They've also been ranked in the top five in the state by the PVCA for the entire 2013 season. Bethlehem Catholic was No. 3 in the latest PVCA AA rankings.

So a Bethlehem Catholic-Northeastern showdown seemed likely in the state tournament. It just figured to come in the semifinals or even the finals.

It just didn't work out that way.

Instead, the two state powers will collide at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Cumberland Valley High School in the opening round of the state playoffs.

It's uncertain how this exactly occurred. Apparently there was a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line.

Northeastern, as the District 3 champion, should draw a low seed from another district. That didn't happen.

Maybe it's because the PIAA changed its state volleyball playoff format this season, abandoning quarterfinal pool play. Now the 16-team AA field simply features head-to-head elimination matches from the first round through the final round. Win and you move on. Lose and your season is over.

With the changeover, an oversight may have been made.

Bethlehem Catholic is the only AA team in District 11, and therefore should go through a subregional with another district or districts to advance to the state event.

"(Bethlehem Catholic) was supposed to have played in the District 2 Tournament," Northeastern head coach Matt Wilson told The York Dispatch after Friday's District 3-AA title match. "But back in October that was never communicated with anybody ... online, to the PVCA, or to the districts. So on Monday (May 20) when they released (the PIAA bracket), everyone went 'wait, what's this?' They weren't invited to the District 2 Tournament and District 2 didn't put them in. Otherwise, if they win it, they'd have the District 2-1 spot, which is on the opposite side (of the state bracket) from us. So what District 2 said was that they could play their fourth-place team for that spot."

Not surprisingly, Bethlehem Catholic dominated the fourth-place team from District 2 (Wilkes-Barre Coughlin), 25-12, 25-19, 25-15. That set up the first-round state battle with the Bobcats.

Neither Northeastern nor Bethlehem Catholic is probably happy about the situation, but the head coaches seem to be taking it in stride.

"It's going to be two very good teams," Wilson said. "I don't think too many people are going to argue that fact."

Wilson's counterpart, Bethlehem Catholic's Jeff Koch, expressed a similar sentiment.

"This is like a state final coming up," Koch told the (Allentown) Morning Call. "It's the way the draw worked out. We try to think positively and we feel like if we can win this round, the quarterfinals could be an easier round than the first round. We're just playing this match earlier than expected."

The Hawks won one game and lost two to the Bobcats in a tournament earlier this season. Wednesday's battle will likely be similarly tight.

In fact, it should be a classic confrontation -- one worthy of a state championship match.

Unfortunately, it's occurring much earlier than it should.

There is one silver lining, however. If the Bobcats can win Wednesday, the remaining road to the state championship should be considerably easier. After all, the defending champion Golden Hawks will no longer be standing in their way.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis