While there's no shortage of skilled players on the St. Mary's of Lancaster girls volleyball team, even the most talented crews need a difference-maker or two to take them over the top.
The Lancers had three of them in seniors Jillian Vitale and Summer Slade and junior Hannah Mulhern. They all played vital roles in St. Mary's capturing its second straight New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship and third title in four years. Each also earned a spot on the 2017 Coaches All-Western New York First Team.
The overall, large- and small-school All-Western New York teams are selected by area coaches. The Lancers' trio is among the 14 to earn spots on the overall All-WNY team.
Slade is a repeat first-team selection. The Duquesne commit helped St. Mary's win state titles three times during her four seasons. She battled through injuries this season but still was a key player in finishing with 321 kills and 29 blocks.
"Summer was one of WNY’s best attackers from anywhere along the net," Lancers coach Don Pieczynski said. "She certainly will be missed. She battled through a few injuries … but once healthy was dominant."
Stepping up in Slade's absence at outside hitter was Mulhern, who blossomed into one of the area's best, according to Pieczynski. She led the team with 327 kills.
Vitale finished with 1,104 assists in the team's 48 matches an added 63 aces. She too will graduate as a three-time state champion with St. Mary's.
"Jillian has run our diverse offense for two years and was unflappable," Pieczynski said.
Slade isn't the only repeat first-team All-WNY pick on this year's squad, as a total of four others from 2016 earned spots on this year's team.
That includes Lancaster's Julia Kurowski, who will continue her career at Colgate. Kurowski, a four-year starter who played setter and outside hitter, is a three-time All-WNY pick and this year finished with 356 kills, 117 blocks and 298 assists. For her career, she finished with 1,135 assists, 1,111 kills and 643 digs.
Maryvale's Julia Carter earns her second All-WNY first-team nod. The Texas A&M commit considers making it to the sectional finals for the third straight year as her top memory for the season. She finished with a .450 hitting percentage and helped the Flyers post a 51-7 record her final three seasons after they just won three matches her freshman year.
Madalyn Bowen of Panama earned her second straight All-WNY selection. Last year's Prep Talk Awards Three-Sport Female Athlete of the Year had another dominant season for the Panthers, helping the defending state champions reach the Class D final for the second year in a row. Though Panama's title reign ended, Bowen earned a spot on the all-tournament team after recording 306 kills and 196 digs.
Bethany Miller of Portville garners her second straight All-WNY nod. The junior has done nothing but help the Panthers win during her career. The third-year starter finished with 318 kills, 183 digs, 87 blocks and 71 aces in helping Portville win its third state championship in four years. The Panthers, who won state crowns in Class D in 2014 and 2015, ended Eden's eight-year state championship reign in Class C this year en route to capturing the state title in that classification.
Miller isn't the only Portville Panther to earn a spot on All-WNY. Teammate and setter Haley Unverdorben handed out 567 assists and finishes her five-season career holding the school record in that category with more than 2,000. She also had 112 digs and 81 aces.
Rachel Steffan helped Williamsville East reach a state final for the second consecutive sports season, the volleyball team's first championship game appearance. She finished with a state-leading 537 kills and also had 51 aces and 37 blocks. She also earned first-team All-WNY in softball as the Fordham commit was a key hitter and glove at second base for the Flames' softball team during its run to the championship game last spring.
Junior Jaide Cummings of Clarence earned her first All-WNY nod after finishing with 294 kills and 357 digs.
East Aurora sophomore setter Olivia Alessi said her top memory was helping the Blue Devils go undefeated in league play this past season. She also finished with school records for assists (335) and aces (76) and added 130 kills.
Lancaster senior libero Kaitlyn Becht was a standout defensive specialist for the Legends. In addition to 292 digs, she had 32 aces. She's not the only libero to make All-WNY as she's joined by Niagara Wheatfield junior Jenna Sonnenberg, who had 332 digs, 86 aces and chipped in with the occasional kill in finishing with 23 of them.
Sacred Heart senior Micaela Ryan, a three-time first-team All-Catholic, moved up from honorable mention and All-WNY Small School first team from last season. A basketball standout, Ryan finished with 177 kills, 35 digs and 29 aces.