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FROM UNWANTED VOLLEYBALL PLAYER TO ALL-WNY; CLARENCE'S WAGNER BEAT ODDS

It would have been real easy for Jay Wagner to walk away from volleyball.

Who would have blamed him after being cut from his Clarence junior varsity teams in his freshman and sophomore years?

Wagner eventually played during his sophomore year, talking his way onto the team as a replacement for a player who had quit. "He came up to our JV coach and said, 'is there anything I can do since there's an extra uniform? Can I have one more shot?' " said varsity coach Kevin Starr. "Two years later, he's all-Western New York. He's a product of very hard work."

Wagner grew about four inches to 6-foot-6 and puts all of his strength and size behind a powerful jump serve. His serve accounted for 21 points in a sectional win over Orchard Park.

"I knew I could do it," said Wagner. "When I finally came back, I proved to myself I could do something that people didn't think I could do. I was kind of uncoordinated, so I worked on that a lot. I definitely got better. I always liked volleyball. I just never got the coaching."

Few have made more out of getting another chance than Wagner, one of seven seniors named to the first team, which is selected by a panel of coaches. Wagner and Mark Schlabach represent Clarence.

For the fifth time in his 21-year career, Walt Stefani of Orchard Park was named Coach of the Year. Here's a look at the other first-teamers for 1999:

Mark Schlabach, Clarence: Senior setter who was a four-year starter and emotional leader of the Red Devils. He holds six school records, including marks for serve attempts, points, assists and digs. He was the recipient of the Michael T. Schlabach award, named for his late brother who graduated in 1992 and died from leukemia in 1994 at age 19. "I don't think there is anybody who wouldn't agree that he's probably the top player in the area," said Starr. "He's the single biggest reason we were able to beat OP and win the Section."

Matt Kresconko, Frontier: Senior outside hitter with big-time power and leaping ability. "He was our go-to guy when we needed a big point," said coach Chris Luksch. "There aren't too many kids who hit as high he did. He was able to hit over a lot of blocks." Led Falcons to share of ECIC I title and a 19-7 records. His brother, Ed, also was a first-teamer. Honor roll student. Named to all-tournament team at Eden. Three-year varsity player.

Larry Maroney, Iroquois: Led Chiefs to first Section VI title in 20 years. The first Iroquois player since Brian Boeheim (1979) to make All-WNY. Middle hitter who is 6-4 with a tremendous vertical leap. "He's just a pure athlete," said coach Ernie Brown. "What he learned about the game of volleyball he learned very quickly. He only played volleyball in his last two years." An ECIC II all-star in basketball and a 6-8 high jumper.

Mark Reed, Eden: Accomplished athlete who's been the cornerstone of the Raiders the past three seasons, leading the team in kill and blocks. Three-year member of the varsity basketball team and four years in track. Senior right-side hitter named all-tournament at Orchard Park and Eden.

Brad Rossi, Orchard Park: Senior outside hitter who led Quakers to the Section VI Class A title game. Named MVP of Clarence, Sweet Home and Orchard Park tournaments. A top passer who allowed Quakers to start their offense easily. Has a 71-11 record as a three-year varsity starter. Also swims.

Nick Schmitt, St. Francis: First from the Msgr. Martin Association to land on first-team. Senior middle hitter who led the Red Raiders to the MMA title. Had 14 kills in championship match against Canisius. Helped St. Francis to an 22-1 overall record and 8-0 in the league. Four-year varsity athlete who played in three MMA finals.

(Note: The girls volleyball coaches have declined The News' invitation to select an ALL-WNY team. Instead, they have chosen large and small school teams, among several others. Those teams are listed below.)

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