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For the first time since 1996, the home team came away with the title at the Sweet Home Volleyball Invitiational.

The Panthers girls volleyball team -- which returns "well, everybody" in the words of coach Kathy Neelon -- survived probably the toughest tournament this side of the sectionals Saturday. Sweet Home emerged from the field of North Tonawanda, City Honors, Lancaster and Newark (Section V), capping it off by sweeping a two-game final from Eden.

"We came in second quite a few times and I think the kids were tired of it," said Neelon, whose team has watched North Tonawanda win the last three Section VI and state titles in Class A. "I don't know if 'we're back.' Volleyball in our area has absolutely flourished the last six or seven years -- I think a lot of teams are back and continue to be back. It's a positive sign for us to win, but we've got a lot of stiff competition we still need to prepare for."

The veteran group included Rachel Rush and Jamie Hettinger setting up kills by Melanie Wilson, Stephanie Hopkins, Tracy Shields and Alissa Ruffino.

"There were some real slugfests in the pool play rounds -- it was excellent volleyball all the way around," said Neelon. "It was really a big team step for us, we played with a lot of maturity and patience. When we were down, we weren't as rattled as easily as year ago. One year makes a big difference."

Eden was coming off an impressive performance the previous week at the Minisink Tournament of Champions in Middletown, where Diana Wierzba was named MVP as the Raiders went undefeated against competition from throughout the Northeast.

On the boys side of the net, Lancaster survived last Saturday's one-day, 16-team Clarence Tournament thanks in large part to MVP Brian Honsberger, who had a 28-kill performance in a semifinal three-game win over Hamburg. The Redskins' previous victories in the tournament -- now in its 14th year -- were 1990, 1989 and 1987.

St. Mary's honors Strzelczyk

This season's opener for the St. Mary's (Lancaster) girls volleyball team was much more special than usual.

In a ceremony prior to its win over Villa Maria last Tuesday, the team dedicated its 2000 season to the memory of Lucia Strzelczyk. Strzelczyk passed away due to cancer on May 7. Her daughter, Cara, was a 1999 graduate and player for the Lancers who is currently attending Long Island University on a volleyball scholarship.

"She and her husband would be at every match," said coach Becky Baker. "Even after Cara graduated, even after Lucia was sick, she was still at the games. She was a great mother and a great supporter of her daughter.

"She wasn't one of those parents that was bugging me about playing time or things like that. She'd ask how Cara was doing, and she'd say, 'Keep pushing her, keep pushing her.' She wanted her to play as hard as she could. . . . She was a wonderful person."

Tigers hunt down a win

The season-long road trip continues, but at long last, Amherst's football losing streak is over.

The Tigers ended a 16-game slide that stretched across three seasons when they beat Lewiston-Porter, 21-20, Friday. The game was at Lew-Port, part of a season full of away games for Amherst. The Tigers' home field is unavailable while a track is under construction.

"It was definitely a great feeling," said Amherst coach Kevin Lester. "Probably the nicest part of it was that some alumni from the past two years were there and they got to be a part of it. . . . It was nice to see the players' faces and see how excited they were. When you're on a championship team, it's easy to come to school and practice every day. When you're not it's tough to get up every morning and say, 'I'm a football player.' I give them a lot of credit. Now we're hoping to start a different kind of streak."

Around the halls

With Kenmore West and Kenmore East both 3-0 and ranked in the top five of the News large school football poll, shouldn't their Oct. 21 regular season finale against each other be interesting? . . . Cassadaga Valley is the latest team to try to contain Allegany-Limestone's Anthony Jeffries, who has run for six touchdowns in each of his last two games. Jeffries has 758 yards and 14 TDs through three games, but the 3-0 Cougars await the visiting 3-0 Gators at 2 p.m. Saturday. . . . JFK senior Art Jozwiak not only won last weekend's Newark Invitational cross country meet, but his winning 3.1-mile time of 17:16 was 54 seconds better than anyone else's. Jozwiak, Jesse Rappole (Maple Grove), Trevor Cable (Frewsburg) and their teammates will run in Saturday's New Hartford Invitational at SUNY Utica/Rome -- the course the state championship will be held on. . . . Clarence and Starpoint are listed as "Top Teams to Watch" in girls cross country by the New York State Sportswriters Association. . . . Adelphia's HTTV will broadcast Monday's matchup between Niagara Football League boys volleyball unbeatens Kenmore East and Kenmore West Saturday at 3 p.m. and Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

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