Northeastern vs. Central York.

Year in and year out, it's the most anticipated match of the York-Adams League boys' volleyball season.

This year is certainly no different.

The Bobcats and the Panthers are set to slug it out on Thursday night in Manchester in front of a large, raucous crowd at the Northeastern gym.

Do you want to know how much both communities are salivating at the opportunity to watch this showdown? There's an advance ticket sale. That happens quite often for football or boys' basketball games, but it rarely occurs for boys' volleyball.

Both teams will enter the regular-season finale unbeaten in league action and ranked highly in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association state polls. Northeastern is No. 1 in Class AA, while Central is No. 3 in AAA.

The York-Adams League regular-season title will be on the line, of course. But this match will also have an impact on the District 3 power rankings, the state rankings and -- most importantly -- school pride.

"Certainly, there will not be room for the faint of heart," Central coach Brad Livingston said.

The Bobcats and the Panthers each boast storied programs and trophy cases stuffed with league, district and state championship awards. The winner of Thursday's battle will add to that hardware haul.

A few years back, this rivalry used to open the league season, but recently it's been moved to an end-of-the-season battle on a night that features no other league volleyball matches. It was a sensible move that gives the match, and the sport, more exposure.

"What sense did (having the match early in the season) make," Livingston said. "They don't usually play games like Michigan-Ohio State, USC-Notre Dame, etc., at the start of the season. Frankly, this has been a marquee matchup for decades. ... Doing this doesn't hurt anyone. I am sure the fanfare around this matchup might help build the sport in York County."

The teams have met once this spring in a tournament at Central, with the Panthers emerging with a 25-21 victory. But Livingston doesn't believe that match -- or previous encounters during the club season -- will mean much on Thursday.

"They've won some and we've won some," he said. "None of that carries over to Thursday."

Northeastern coach Matt Wilson, for one, can't wait to see what happens on Thursday.

"It is one of the best rivalries in the state in any sport," he said. "Additionally, the two programs have established themselves as the marquee programs, not just in the county, but in the state as well. Both programs have a proud and rich history that cannot be matched easily."

That history includes five state titles and 20 District 3 crowns for Central, and three state championships and a dozen district crowns for Northeastern.

Both coaches expect a memorable evening on Thursday, featuring an intense and closely-fought contest that could very well go the full five games. In fact, it might be more surprising if the match didn't go the distance.

"Very often these huge games do not live up to their billing, but this one usually does," Livingston said. "It should be fun. Both teams have great respect for each other. Now it is time to play. As Johnny Unitas used to say: 'Talk is cheap. Let's play.'"

You want to know the best part about this showdown?

There will likely be a rematch next Tuesday night in the York-Adams League Tournament championship match at Dallastown.

Northeastern vs. Central York meeting twice within a week's time?

Well, if you're a York County boys' volleyball fan, it just doesn't get much better than that.

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