Hamburg's contention that it's a slow starter doesn't fly anymore.
The Bulldogs' volleyball season couldn't have gotten off to a faster start than it did Saturday after they won the 23rd annual Clarence Invitational. The field included 16 of the top teams in Western New York.
"We've never won this tournament before, and even when we've won state championships, we never get out of the gate really fast," said Hamburg coach Brian Carroll. "This year I said, 'guys, this is the year we could win this tournament.' "
The Bulldogs' win was memorable because they knocked off defending tournament champion Orchard Park in the final, 25-16, 25-18. Hamburg's only other trip to the tournament final came in 1992.
Orchard Park is coming off a 2008 season in which it finished 34-0 and sent three players to NCAA Division I college teams. For Carroll, a 1990 graduate of Orchard Park, the win was something everyone wearing purple has wanted for a long time. His teams hadn't beaten their ECIC I rivals since 2006.
"This is the one team [OP], every time we play, this is the team that I really care about the most. It's circled," said Carroll. "It's not personal, but it's personal. For these kids, it's Orchard Park and we're Hamburg. All the kids know I'm from Orchard Park and they say, 'Coach really wants this game.' "
The Bulldogs delivered, keeping Orchard Park on its heels in both games of the final.
OP struggled to find its rhythm while Hamburg pounded away from the outside. OP had trouble with its passing while Hamburg's back row was solid all day led by Drake Kramer, Mitch Johnson and Brian Toense.
Hamburg grabbed the momentum in the first game with some timely blocks. It was more of the same in the second game.
"I think it's a transition team that's trying to learn from last year's team," said OP co-coach Walt Stefani. "We graduated so much, but I think what happened is we got a little tired. We've got two guys learning two new positions, and it's a lot more movement, a lot more action. So they tired out a little."
The biggest threat at the net for Hamburg was junior Alex McColgin, named tournament MVP.
"Orchard Park is our biggest rival and last year they were extremely good," said McColgin, who had 16 kills in the final. "We just wanted to make it to the finals, it didn't matter who it was, but we were hoping it would be OP. This is definitely big. It shows that we can beat the best."
Hamburg survived a grueling three-game match to eliminate last year's runner-up, Canisius, in the semifinal, 25-20, 22-25, 15-11.
OP beat Eden in two close games in its semifinal, 25-19, 25-22. All four teams were 6-0 in pool play.
Canisius, winners of nine straight Monsignor Martin Association titles, landed two picks on the All-tournament team: senior outside hitter Luke Klee and junior CJ Coatsworth. "Everyone played at a pretty high level," said coach Tom Weislo. "Hamburg is a great team. Alex McColgin is the most dynamic player in Western New York right now."
Eden, winner of this event in 2004-2006, landed senior outside hitter Matt Mayer and junior setter Evan Laedki on the All-tournament team.
Coach Robert Pierce said he thought his team made progress, and showed it can hang with any team in Western New York. He was impressed that his team erased a big deficit against OP to tie a game at 21-21.
Also named All-tournament were: Kevin Brouillard (Orchard Park), Jake Beindel (Orchard Park) and Adam Dings (Hamburg).