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Eden's title has many happy returns Smith named MVP as Raiders drop rival St. Mary's in final

Being the tallest girl in the junior class has its perks.

Stacey Smith used all her tools, including a 6-foot-2 frame, to lead defending champion Eden to the title of the Eden Girls Volleyball Tournament on Saturday. Smith was named MVP of the 24th annual event as the Raiders beat St. Mary's in the final, 25-11, 25-18. It was Eden's sixth title in the last eight years.

The 16-team field had representatives from five sections from around the state. Western New York made a strong showing with three teams reaching the final four. Eden entered the tournament ranked 19th in the country by prepvolleyball.com.

"This [MVP] means a lot because it's the best tournament in the state," said Smith. "I think I did my best all day. I did well against St. Mary's. They were tired. I got around the block and I got a lot of kills today."

Smith pounded balls at St. Mary's without mercy. Many of her 14 kills went straight down the floor landing with authority in St. Mary's front row. She also put up an intimidating block which slowed the Lancers' powerful net game.

Smith is working with a new setter this season in sophomore Heather Feldman. Eden coach Stephen Pierce said for the first third of the season they were a little out of sync. But the past week or so they've started to click. He added that Smith is a weapon that nobody else has.

Eden's Janine Benkelman added 11 kills. Hannah Herc had eight digs and Joelle Crabtree was next with seven.

It was the fourth meeting this season between the Western New York small school powers. Eden has won all four, but nobody takes a "W" for granted against the reigning Monsignor Martin Association champions.

"Never against St. Mary's," said Pierce. "It's such a hot rivalry, and we know that every time we do get the better of them, they put double the effort in on the practice court. They are a very hard-working team. We know that if we don't play our best, we're in a dog fight. They took it to a very good West Irondequoit team. That team had some really great players and they handled them."

Pierce said his team's serving this season has been inconsistent, but there was no evidence of that in the first game. Eden scored nine points on aces, including four by Heather Henry and three from Smith. It was a three-point game before Eden went on an 8-0 run to break it open.

The points were tougher to come by in the second game for Eden. Elyse Texido, Ally Severyn and Jessica Warner of St. Mary's began finding the floor with their kills, but it wasn't enough.

"We expended a lot of energy in a tough semifinal match [with West Irondequoit]. We hit a lot of balls in the playoffs and we weren't at our best," said St. Mary's coach Donnie Pieczynski. "Against Eden you have to be at your best to stay in the match. They're tough, aggressive servers. They're strong kids and we were definitely off our game. The first game for sure, and it might have cost us mentally a little bit going into the second game. But we recovered and we played them pretty tough in the second game."

Frontier proved it could hang with the best in the state. The Falcons reached the semifinal before being eliminated by Eden. Frontier's pool included fellow Class AA schools Canandaigua, Horseheads and Central Square.

Frontier coach Debby Schruefer said Bethany Fabian has been her most consistent player this season. She lauded setter Melanie Pershyn for delivering the ball all tournament and said her middles, Lauren Rojek and Rachel Stoklosa, are getting better with the more work they get.

Named all-tournament were: Henry (Eden), Feldman (Eden), Texido (St. Mary's), Severyn (St. Mary's), Fabian (Frontier), Stoklosa (Frontier), Mary Cushman (West Irondequoit), Brittany Crocetti (West Irondequoit) and Lacy Blocker (from defending state champion Randolph).

e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com

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