The Clarence girls volleyball team knows all about losses. Not the kind that comes when the other team wins three out of five games. This is the worst possible loss, the loss of a teammate.
In what promises to be an emotional season, the Red Devils are coping with a death of Dana Marie Palumbo, 17, who was killed Aug. 29 when the sport utility vehicle she was driving overturned on Roll Road in Clarence. She was about to begin her senior year at Clarence and would have been editor of the school newspaper.
"She was the first friend I made when I moved here from South Buffalo," said teammate Susan Barbaritz, who will wear Palumbo's No. 7 this season. "She had a really bright smile. She was extremely nice, even to the point where you couldn't believe how nice she was. She knew freshmen and sophomores, she knew people in every grade. The whole volleyball team, we were all crying when we found out."
All of the fall sports teams at Clarence plan to remember Palumbo in some way. The volleyball team is going to wear a patch of a daisy on their game uniform. The boys volleyball team will wear a white wrist band with a black No. 7 on it. The football players have Palumbo's initials on their helmets.
"We were thinking about how we could recognize Dana and Daisy Mae was her nickname," said coach Robin Shifflet. "Not only was a daisy her favorite flower, but a daisy is also a symbol of strength, and it's a lasting flower. That's definitely Dana."
Lancaster isn't interested in settling for runner-up honors, as it did last year in Class A. Seven returnees, including four starters, are back from the team that bowed in three games to Sweet Home at Buffalo State. Laura Grell (DS), Katie Yearly (S), Lisa Jaszka (OH/MH) and Miko Daluisio (DS) look to finish the job.
"The big difference between this year's team and last year's is intensity," said coach Sue Pernick. "They're very focused and have a good work ethic. They all had good club seasons." The 'Skins are also very athletic with five players who helped the softball team last spring reach the state final four.
Presenting Lancaster's biggest challenge will likely be Clarence. The Red Devils' roster includes several players with national tournament experience who've played club ball for years. Four starters return: Kim Koss (OH), Mary Boller (MH), Amanda Turner (MH) and Barbaritz (S). Stopping the 5-foot-11 Wendy Haskell will be a tall order and Katie Kenefick is a smart player to say the least, ranked in the top 10 in her class.
"I have 16 girls and every one is phenomenal," said Shifflet. "They go to clubs and camps and it's really paying off."
North Tonawanda and Kenmore West, co-champions in the Niagara Frontier League last year, have plenty of talent back. The Jacks return senior Andrea Hutton and junior Jamie Overturf. The Blue Devils counter with S/OH Kim Braunschiedel, MH Cara Schroeder and OH Allison Ptak.
Sweet Home may have reached the New York State Class A title game last year, but they're a Class B school this year, resting just under the enrollment cutoff of 900 students.
A solid nucleus returns with OH Stephanie Hopkins, MB Tracy Shield, MH Tiffany Wilson and OH Katie Feldmann. The Panthers are coming off a win in the Burnt Hills Invitational in Albany on Saturday.
"We have a young team, but it's a solid team, and we do have a lot of experience," said coach Kathy Neelon, now in her fifth year. "We have a mix of veterans and kids working really hard. It's pretty exciting."
The question every year is what will Eden do for an encore? The Raiders won their ninth consecutive ECIC IV title and capped a 26-3 season with the New York State Class C title. They closed out last season with an 11-match winning streak.
A pair of all-star outside hitters return in junior Ashley DoEpp and senior Emily Engle. Juniors who got plenty of minutes last year were Kasey Barrett, Karie Zugger and Mallory Kam. "Although we graduated three all-state players and we're very young with one senior, we have a good chance of going to the state championship," said coach Stephen Pierce. "We got a pretty darn good shot. I won't guarantee anything, but we certainly have the talent to do it."
City Honors, winner of 16 consecutive Buffalo Public School titles, graduated three first team All-High picks, but could still have the talent to meet Eden in the Class C final again. The Centaurs are led by MH Phoebe Anderson, who had a strong season for the WNY Storm.
MH Melanie Pohancsek (Buffalo Arts), S Luda Gladkyte (Riverside) and OH Sarah Walgate (Hutch-Tech) are returning All-High selections.
Msgr. Martin Association
Senior OH Lindsey Fattey, the only returning Buffalo News All-Western New York player, is back for St. Mary's. Fattey led the Lancers to a 20-2 season and a berth in the Catholic state semifinals. Fattey's WNY Storm summer club team reached the national tournament for the third year in a row. Senior setter Traci Pieczynski and MH Liz Schaller make the Lancers a favorite to repeat.
Nardin looks to reach the MMA final again with eight returnees including senior starters Maren Domzalski and Amy Zelinski. The Big Green were runnersup in last year's Catholic State finals bowing to Christ the King.
Laurie Underhill (Mt. Mercy) and Chrissy Fanning (Sacred Heart) are returning All-Catholic players.
A pair of rules changes will change the way volleyball is played in Section VI. Front row players better be paying attention on serves. In a move toward following international rules, the ball doesn't have to clear the net cleanly. A let serve is a live ball from now on. The girls will also play best-of-five matches with 30-point rally scoring (15 points for a fifth game). There are no sideouts. If a serve is missed, the other team gets a point and the serve. . . . Players to watch in the Southern Tier: OH Kristen Martin (Allegany-Limestone) and MB Susan Johnson (Salamanca), Anna Neuzilova (Cattaraugus/Little Valley).
GIRLS MAJOR TOURNAMENTS
Sept. 29Sweet Home Tournament
Oct. 6Eden Tournament
Oct. 20North Tonawanda Tournament
Oct. 20Horseheads Tournament
Nov. 6Sectional finals at Buff. State, C-D
Nov. 7Sectional finals at Buff. State, A-B
Nov. 10Far West Regionals at TBA
Nov. 16-17State championships at Hofstra