Williamsville East will return to the state semifinals for the third year in a row determined to bring back the one trophy missing from its collection.
“In other years, our goal was to get there,” senior captain Ally Jozwiak said. “This year, our goal is to win it.”
The Flames blazed through West Irondequoit on Thursday night at Daemen College, winning their third straight Class A Far West Regional in straight sets in front of an estimated crowd of 400 that included their Sea of Red student section.
Four-time sectional champions and state semifinalists the past two seasons, Williamsville East was confident heading into the match with a younger team that was lacking in postseason experience.
“When we played Pittsford Sutherland in past years, they’ve always had the upper hand on us, they’ve went to states multiple times, won the state championship before, and we were always kind of timid,” Jozwiak said. "Being a senior, I knew this was my last shot. And I told them, I'm not losing today."
“This was our year,” senior captain Makayla Greenfield said. “We weren’t the underdogs this year.”
The Flames won the opening game 25-16 and rallied late to take the second set 25-21.
“Our second game, we always joke that it’s our worst game,” Jozwiak said. “If we lose a set in a match, it’s always the second game when we crumble. So we just knew we had to put the ball down and really focus and play our hearts out.”
Williamsville East closed out the match with a 25-17 victory in the third game.
“It was maybe the best three games of volleyball we have played back-to-back,” Flames coach Scott Wright said. “We are a very similar team to West Irondequoit, it’s just our three captains are juniors and seniors and I think that leadership really showed.”
According to Wright’s unofficial statistics, Jozwiak and junior captain Rachel Steffan each had “a bushel full” of kills, “in the 20s,” and Greenfield tallied more than 40 assists. Junior libero Christie Mack was “amazing” at serve receive and freshman Summer Clark rose up for several key blocks.
“Summer Clark was roofing girls,” Steffan said. “We played our game, we had our energy the whole time.”
The No. 1 large school in the Western New York coaches poll now sets its sights on the state championship tournament in Glens Falls next weekend.
“We’ve been there two years before, we know the teams,” Steffan said. “We’re going to win.”
Earlier in the evening, Clarence’s postseason run came to a tearful end in the Class AA Far West Regional for the fourth year in a row.
Undefeated Section V champion Victor claimed a four-set victory over the Red Devils, the No. 2-ranked large school in Western New York.
Clarence came back to defeat Lancaster for its fourth straight Section VI Class AA championship here last week and believed it could do so again after Victor won the opening game 25-21.
“I never doubted our team,” said senior co-captain Melissa Ratzel, who had three kills and three blocks. “We have so much fight in us, so after we lose, we just come back and fight even harder.”
The Red Devils dominated the second set in winning 25-15, the most lopsided game score in either match.
In the third game, Clarence held 14-9 and 15-11 leads before Victor rallied back to win 25-19. Victor took the deciding fourth set 25-18.
Senior co-captain Lindsey Leipold had 17 assists and five digs for the Red Devils. Sophomore Leah Victor led Clarence in kills (nine) and blocks (five).
Clarence overcame the loss of seven seniors from last year’s team, including Under Armour All-American setter Meghan Neelon, who is now starting for the University of Alabama.
“I looked at the preseason polls and I listened to what everybody else said and it was, this is the year to beat Clarence,” coach Mike Meyer said. “I had a bunch of new starters, a bunch of JV girls brought up and they came together kind of out of nowhere and surprised everybody."