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After 6 years of trying, Lancaster unseats Orchard Park as ECIC I girls champions

It’s part of Greek mythology that Sisyphus, after his death, was sentenced to push a rock up a hill for eternity, only to have that rock always slip back down the hill when it was close to the summit.

That in a sense has been the story of the girls tennis teams that have been chasing Orchard Park in ECIC Division I for more than a decade. They’d get close to the top but fall short, as the Quakers won year after year.

But this time, Lancaster has reached the mountaintop.

The Legends wrapped up a perfect league season on Tuesday with a 4-1 win over Clarence. Lancaster finished the year 10-0, with Williamsville North and Orchard Park close behind.

It’s been a long climb for coach Steve Insinna.

“We’ve been sort of working up to this,” he said. “I took the job six years ago, and we were in fourth place. We moved into third, and the last two years we were second. Then we moved into first this year.

“Orchard Park has had the division title for 11 straight years. No one seems to know how many matches they won in a row over 11 straight years. I’m assuming it was over 100.”

With that sort of record, the Quakers have been the standard for excellence in the league. Everyone has a great deal of respect for what they have accomplished, which made the win that much sweeter.

“For me, it means a lot,” said Tina Stasiuk, who plays first singles. “I’m a senior and we haven’t done it in a long time. It’s such a good feeling to do it in my last year of playing. They’ve had it for so long. It felt so good to take it away from them.”

Division titles often come down to the head-to-head matches, and Lancaster beat Orchard Park twice this year.

“When we beat them, 5-0, here, we were shocked,” Insinna said. “We won the first three points of the match and were incredibly happy. Then when we took the next two, we were amazed.

“Then we went there for a rematch, and it ended up at 3-2. It went down to the last match. We’re in first, but it’s been very exciting. Each match is usually close. Even the Williamsville North match went to the last point.”

It’s not easy to build a program at the high school level. The traditional way in most sports is to mix an excellent coach with a good youth program in a community that sends a steady stream of talent to the high school. Tennis is a little different, since it is an individual sport for many young players. The path taken by three Lancaster players features different stories.

“I’ve been playing since my freshman year,” Stasiuk said. “I just picked up a racket then. I just liked how you have to keep going, and it’s about you. If you mess up, it’s your fault.”

“I’ve been playing since I was 4,” said freshman Paige Szymusiak, so she’s been at it for about a decade. “We started in the Como Park recreation program, and ever since then I’ve really loved tennis.”

“I’ve played since about fourth grade,” senior Katelynn Budzich said. “My grandparents had a condo in Florida, so I played there a lot. It was nice. I took it more seriously from there. I joined a club, and I’ve been playing ever since.”

That family connection is often important in getting someone to start playing the game.

“A parent that plays will put the time in with a son or daughter,” Insinna said. “They do the job, get the kid going, and maybe they’ll send the kids to a club.”

But you don’t have to be a member of a tennis club or a country club to develop as a tennis player. Insinna runs a summer program in Alden that has helped the high school team there improve.

“My daughter coaches at Alden, and she’s got a really good team this year,” he said. “Her girls came out for the summer program for eight weeks and worked really hard, and they’ve turned the program around from a 0-win team to a 6-or-7 win team.”

But still the pieces had to fall into place at Lancaster. The three singles and two doubles matches all count evenly in competition, so depth is crucial.

“That’s where we really made out this year,” Insinna said. “We’ve got two sisters,” Madison and Emma Weidman, “who came in, and they filled that second doubles spot. That’s a spot where we haven’t done well overall. They shored that up.”

Then there’s the matter of luck - good luck for Lancaster, bad luck for Orchard Park.

“Orchard Park had a coaching change, so there was a transition,” Insinna said. “They had a couple of injuries, and they didn’t come out of the gate like they usually do. We got out of the gate quickly. Williamsville North was also very tough this year. Their new coach did a great job with the program. We’re very fortunate and extremely happy to be where we are.”

With the regular season now over, everything changes for the Legends. Individual competition starts in earnest, as the ECIC singles competition will be staged this weekend. The doubles playoffs will be held a week later. All seven of Lancaster’s regular competitors – three singles players and two doubles teams – will be there.

From there it’s on to the Section VI championship, and maybe a trip to the state tournament.

“I’m so excited,” Stasiuk said. “I want to go to states.”

But no matter what happens, it’s been an historic season for Lancaster tennis.

“I think that we’re surprised at how good we’ve been doing,” said Budzich, who is part of the first doubles team with Alyssa Kranz. “We’ve been consistently good over the past few years, but this year it’s been really awesome to go unbeaten - especially being a senior in my last year.”

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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