Horseheads girls volleyball coach Patti Perone used to say when Sweet Home walks in the gym, it had points in its pockets. That's the way most coaches felt during the Sally Kus coaching era from 1974 to 1996, when the Panthers won six straight New York State titles.
It's a decade later, and Section VI still has deep pockets.
Section VI sent three teams to the state finals at Glens Falls last month and all three won. It's a history that has been repeating itself ever since the New York State Championship began for girls in 1990. Section VI has won 29 of the 71 titles in the different classifications. The next closest Section is XI with seven. Sweet Home has the most wins with six, all between 1990-1995. Eden and Mayville (now Chautauqua Lake) are next with five each.
The remarkable success story started with Kus, who understood what it meant to build a program. Kus, living in Cuba-Rushford now after retiring in 2003, delights in the fact Section VI still dominates at states.
"I still think it's more about program. The real smart coaches have the good, young players play up when they can. That way you're never devastated from graduation," said Kus. "It's to the point where the potential star players come from the great club programs, and also there's the Empire [State Games] experience."
Kus founded the Cheetah Volleyball Club and coached at Empires. She also welcomed an exchange of ideas with legendary coaches Charlie O'Brien of Cleveland Hill and Joe Gillespie of Eden. She said people hated her Western ESG team because of its success. "But hate is good. It's like hating the Yankees," she said.
She said today Eden coaches Robert and Stephen Pierce give athletes a solid foundation and life experience. She said many former high school stars have given back by becoming coaches, such as Robin Shifflet (Clarence), Brandi Trapasso (Niagara-Wheatfield), Breean Trapasso (Sweet Home) and Jess Anderson (North Tonawanda).
Kus said the passion for volleyball runs deep in WNY and 2006 state champs Lancaster, Eden and Randolph are the lastest examples of that.
Time on their side
For Danielle Martzolf and Lancaster, it was their time. "I remember watching my older sister and I never thought I'd be a senior," said Martzolf, one of the team's senior leaders.
For anyone who watched the grace with which Lancaster played, it was apparent this team was gifted. In the Class AA state title game, it took the Redskins only 50 minutes to dispose of Baldwinsville.
"We were a very close team. We all got along very well. It helped us in getting as far as we did," said Martzolf. "We knew where each other was going to be on the court. I could tell which ball [libero] Nicole [Jablonski] was going to get and which one I was going to get."
Senior setter Lindsey Schlegel and senior middle Kristi Schrantz were also part of the combination that helped Lancaster win its sixth straight Section VI Class AA title and finish 19-0.
Lancaster's chemistry was also felt at Eden and Randolph. Eden won the state title in Class B while Randolph made it two in a row in Class D.
The expectations were high at Eden as the Raiders returned every starter and added 6-foot-2 freshman Stacy Smith.
Eden delivered with the program's fifth state title and a 23-1 record. The team was led all season by libero Rachel Sarcione and outside hitters Heather Henry and Amber Levy.
Senior Kaitlin Erdmann, senior Suerra Finch, junior Hillary Wadswoth and senior Lindsey Ralston were starters on both of Randolph's championship teams. The Cardinals followed last year's 26-1 campaign with a 20-2 mark.
"The girls played with confidence," said coach Robin Maycock, in her 19th season. "I knew if we played like we could, we could win."
How sweet it is . . .
Winning a Section VI title is a nice way to start a varsity coaching career. Breean Trapasso did it at Sweet Home in Class A, but she had an edge over other rookie coaches.
Trapasso played on the North Tonawanda teams that won the Class A state titles in 1997, '98 and '99. "I coach the same way I used to play," said Trapasso. "Even as a coach you're pumped up, you have that desire to win. I kind of know what needs to be done. Winning the sectionals was great. From the beginning to the end we improved."
Senior OH Krista Prentice was the team's MVP and a four-year varsity player. Sophomore Kelsey Maving has been setting since seventh grade.
Kranz: A matter of principal
Of all the tough calls St. Mary's coach Becky Kranz made, the toughest one came at the end of the season when she stepped down.
Kranz was promoted to Principal at St. Mary's which will not allow her to continue coaching. Kranz, a 1992 graduate, coached the Lancers the past 13 seasons compiling a 278-36 record.
Under Kranz, St. Mary's won five New York Sate Catholic championships, eight Monsignor Martin Association crowns and 11 regular season titles. St. Mary's is coming off an 22-2 season in which Rebecca Suchy was league MVP.