John Cordier, the coach who put the Frontier boys volleyball program on the map, is charting a new course for himself this season.
In an effort to spend more time with his young family, the two-time Section VI Coach of the Year has resigned.
Frontier had never won a Section VI title before Cordier joined the Falconsfamily in 1992, but won four consecutive Class A titles (1994-1997) and two regional crowns (1995, 1997) since.
He also is known throughout Western New York for his work as an Eden Volleyball Club coach and as coach of the Empire State Games scholastic team.
Cordier said he made the difficult decision in order to watch his seven-year-old son, Christian, play on the Buffalo Regals Mite Minor hockey travel team. Christian, who will be entering second grade at Hamburg's Ellicott Elementary, also has a 5-year-old sister, Mary Elizabeth.
"I was gone 12 hours a day, six days a week. I was leaving home when Christian was sleeping and coming home when he was sleeping," said Cordier. "You keep saying 'one more year, one more year.' But all the advice I've gotten from people was your children are only young once, and volleyball will always be there."
Taking over for Cordier is Chris Luksch, a history teacher at Frontier, a former varsity coach at Amherst, Cleveland Hill, and Pembroke, and a former official. He was the Falcons' junior varsity coach the last two seasons.
Here's a look at some of the top teams on the eve of the 1999 season:
Frontier or Orchard Park?
Frontier goes eight to nine deep, led by ECIC I all-star Matt Kresconko, one of four returning starters. The Falcons have had their share of dominant players in recent years with All-Western New Yorkers Jeff Ptak, Josh Becker and Ben Rowell. Who will emerge from this year's talented crop?
Not only is Luksch's team deep, there are several players who are adept at two or three positions. For example, last year's setter, senior Mark Sparzynski, may move to hitter, allowing senior Dennis Lates to set the ball.
"Our depth should keep teams guessing, and if anyone gets a little stale, we can move them around," said Luksch.
The defending Section VI, Class A champions from Orchard Park are a solid team that plays with confidence. The Quakers are led by senior outside hitter Brad Rossi, an ECIC I all-star. Walt Stefani, who notched his 300th career coaching win, returns for his 21st season.
In a pair of matches that should decide the ECIC I title, Frontier travels to Orchard Park on Oct. 1 at 8 p.m., and OP is at Frontier on Oct. 22 at 7:30.
Chase is on at Eden
It's unlikely anyone is going to stop Eden from winning its fourth consecutive sectional title and ninth in the last 13 years. The Raiders are coming off a season in which they won the Class B Intersectional, volleyball's equivalent of a state title.
The Raiders are a balanced squad despite the loss of four starters. The returning starters are seniors Mark Reed, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound middle/outside hitter, and Andy Smith, an agile outside hitter. Handling the setting chores will be junior Adam Ogrodniczak, the younger brother of Peter, an All-WNY setter last year.
Eden is 35-1 the last three years in ECIC III. "It's an established program and we'd like to keep it that way," said coach Robert Pierce.
Best of the rest
Clarence boasts perhaps the best all-around player in WNY, senior setter Mark Schlabach, a spirited player with a genuine love of the game. "I've know Mark since he was seven years old. He used to come to practice with his brothers," said Red Devils coach Kevin Starr. "He's the ultimate volleyball gym rat. I feel I'm the luckiest coach in Buffalo to have him on my team, not because of his ability, but also because he's a great kid in every way." . . . Class B finalist Grand Island looks to reload after losing its heavy hitters to graduation. Senior Eric Modlich and junior Jacob Lange return for the Vikings, who are chasing their third consecutive Frontier Division title. . . . Iroquois features the 1-2 punch of all-purpose hitter Larry Maroney and setter Jake Steck, a pair of ECIC II volleyball and basketball all-stars. . . . East Aurora has Costa Rica exchange student Brian Rodriquez, a senior who will play outside hitter. Rodriquez's high school team was second in all of Central America next to Panama. Gary DeJames, who coached the Blue Devils in 1996, returns for his second stint behind the East Aurora bench. . . . Lancaster features 6-4 sophomore Brian Honsberger, who touches 11-2 . . . Brian Casillo (North Tonawanda), Mark Saunderson (LaSalle), John Tocke (Kenmore West) and Joe Baldi (Kenmore East) are the returning second-team all-stars in the Niagara Frontier League.
Welcome home Jeff
Frontier graduate Jeff Ptak will be among the world class athletes coming to Eden for the inaugural Final Four Preview Night, an exhibition involving four NCAA, Division I powers.
Stanford, Ohio State and Rutgers and Indiana/Purdue Fort Wayne will play matches at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Nov. 5. One of Ptak's IPFW teammates is Hector Soto, one of the top players in the country, who has a vertical leap around 49 inches.
"We're talking world-class athletes, no doubt," said Eden coach Robert Pierce. "It will be a great chance for Jeff to come home, but it's also a great opportunity for people to see college volleyball at its highest level."
Canisius looks to extend its streak of Msgr. Martin Association titles to four. The Crusaders won the crown outright in 1996 and 1997 and shared it last year with St. Joe's and St. Francis.
Canisius returns five starters led by All-Catholic, Tim Barry, a senior setter. Senior Mike Leslie and junior Joe Zera are back after seasons in which they earned second-team honors. St. Francis returns a pair of first-team All-Catholics -- senior outside hitter Joe Kick and senior middle blocker Nick Schmidt -- as well as second-teamer Tony Fistola. St. Joe's returns a pair of second teamers: Jeff Milkowski and Andy Spitler.
Schlabach (Clarence), Rossi (Orchard Park), Kresconko (Frontier) and Reed (Eden) all were members of the Empire State Games team that won the scholastic gold in July on Long Island. . . . Orchard Park is the defending champion in the WNY coaches poll. Defending league champions are: Orchard Park (ECIC I, 13-1), Lake Shore (ECIC II, 12-0), Eden (ECIC III, 12-0), North Tonawanda (Niagara Frontier League, 12-1). . . . The 30th annual Section VI championships are Nov. 10 at Eden. The Intersectionals are scheduled for Nov. 13 at Liverpool (Section III). . . . The 22nd annual Eden Pan/Am Tournament, featuring Puerto Rican powerhouse San Ignacio High School in the field of 16, is Sept. 25. . . . The Orchard Park Tournament is Oct. 23. . . . The 13th annual Clarence Tournament is Sept. 18.