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Star power keeps OP on top Division I prospects lead the Quakers

He describes it as "the perfect storm."

Matt Lexner, the well-read social studies teacher from Orchard Park who doubles as volleyball coach, wasn't referring to the 1997 best seller. He was alluding to his undefeated Quakers, the overwhelming favorite to win a sectional title.

It's rare to have one future NCAA Division I player in your lineup; the Quakers have three. OP went 29-0 during the regular season, winning all four tournaments it entered.

"Even in our own building, [teaching colleagues] snicker, 'If you lose even a game you should be ashamed of yourself. You better not blow it,' " Lexner said. "You only get a team like this once in a career. I call it the perfect storm."

It would be a shock if the Quakers weren't lifting a plaque overhead after next week's Section VI Class A final.

Never mind trying to hit with OP, the Quakers can take opponents out of a match with just their serve. A Penn State scout was at OP's recent match against West Seneca West and later commented he's never seen a high school team use the serve to attack people.

In three-game matches this season, OP has been averaging 7-14 points in aces. "Our serve is relentless," Lexner said. "We knock people over with it, but it's a product of working on it, too. We focus on it 20-30 minutes a day."

The OP lineup includes two-time All-Western New York pick Mike Stefani, who will sign a national letter of intent next month with Ohio State.

Pat Schwagler has been accepted to Princeton and visited there this weekend. He's also being recruited by Penn State and Loyola of Chicago. Tom Comfort is weighing an offer from Penn State and has made an official visit to Loyola.

Other starters are 6-2 junior Jake Breindel, 6-5 junior Kevin Brouillard and 6-1 setter Troy Nowak, who's also a good leaper. The libero is senior Shane Cassell.

The Section VI tournament begins tonight with prequarterfinal matches in Class A and B. The No. 1 seed and defending champion Quakers host No. 16 Williamsville North. The quarterfinals will be Thursday followed by the semifinals on Saturday. Eden will host the finals Nov. 5.

Among OP's goals is to duplicate what Eden did two seasons ago when it finished 32-0. It would be OP's first undefeated season since the 1991 team ended 25-0.

"For me to say I'm not worried, I'd probably be lying," OP co-coach Walt Stefani said. "But these kids trust in each other's abilities. If one goes sour, they have the other five to pick them up. I tell them you have to beat everybody to be champions. Let's take care of our own court."

In Class B, No. 1 seed Eden will make its tournament debut on Thursday against tonight's Iroquois/Depew winner. Eden has won eight straight sectional titles and 25 in its history.

Eden coach Robert Pierce has seen tremendous growth in his team from the start of the year. The Raiders ended the regular season playing large schools Orchard Park, Hamburg and Canisius to prepare for sectionals.

"I think we're in a good place," Pierce said. "We've done everything we can to prepare for another sectional run. The guys are starting to get stronger physically and understand to win you have to play pretty relentless from points 1 to 25."

The Monsignor Martin Association quarterfinals are tonight, the semifinals will Thursday and the finals Nov. 5 at Hilbert College. Canisius is chasing its ninth straight title. All-Catholic outside hitter Alex Mendez, coming off an ankle sprain, is expected back for the postseason.

All five top seeds will be in action tonight when the girls sectionals continue with quarterfinal matches.

Lancaster has won seven straight Class AA titles. Other defending champions are Starpoint (Class A), East Aurora (Class B), Eden (Class C) and Randolph (Class D).

Frontier, which shared the ECIC I title with Lancaster, is the No. 1 seed. The Falcons are led by Bethany Fabian, who made six all-tournament teams during the season.

Eden joins Lancaster with a string of sectionals titles, and has won nine straight and 14 overall. The only loss for the Raiders, ranked nationally most of the year, was to St. Mary's. Led by the North Carolina-bound Heather Henry, Eden went 12-0 in ECIC IV and won four in-season tournaments. Last year Eden went 26-0 and won its sixth New York State title.

No. 4 seed in Class A, Lake Shore, has reached the last two sectional finals, winning in 2006.

e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com

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