Cheektowaga pulled off the upset of the season in 2008, ending the eight-year reign of Eden in the Section VI Class B final. The Warriors return just one starter, setter Ryan Carr, but will get a boost from Kenmore East transfer Sean Walters, a senior OH.
"We're rebuilding a little, but we've got a nice core of juniors and we hope we can get everything to come together," coach Jon Marcussen said.
Hamburg grabbed the No. 1 ranking in the WNY Coaches poll after winning the Clarence Tournament. Senior Adam Dings is a gifted setter who keeps his emotions in check and shows plenty of instinct for the game. RS Alex McColgin, the MVP at Clarence, is a dynamic hitter who draws a lot of attention.
Orchard Park is coming off a 34-0 season in which it won the Section VI Class A title for the second year in a row. The Quakers are led by 6-foot-6 OH Kevin Brouillard, OH Jake Beindel and Troy Nowak, all senior tri-captains. The Quakers are off to a 6-1 start with their only loss coming to Hamburg in the finals of the Clarence Tournament.
Eden is not overpowering, but it is coachable and executes. The Raiders have only one senior, OH Matt Meyer, one of the Raiders' most consistent players and someone who has been hitting at a high percentage.
"I keep waiting for him to make mistakes like he used to, and he's not," coach Robert Pierce said. "That's nice to see a player find the groove and get the feel. The game seems very easy for him now."
Setter Evan Laedke is a real jumper and Justin Waldorf is starting to establish himself on the outside.
More than one coach described Clarence as a "dangerous" team capable of knocking off anyone. The Red Devils return junior David Hill, a three-year starter. He led the team in five statistical categories last year, and is on pace to break almost every single season and career school record.
"He plays year round [Eden VBC], and he's a perfect example of the type of talent fostered by our area's outstanding clubs and camps," coach Kevin Starr said.
Outside hitter Nick Mahoney and Hill are a very potent combination for the Red Devils. When one is in the front row, the other is a threat to bang the ball out of the back row.
Holland returns seniors Craig Kwilos, Tom Makin (both co-captains) and DJ Vetter, named all-tournament at the Gary Tocke Tournament.
Last year's Class A finalist Frontier will be led by Dylan Seufert and Tyler Loveless while sophomores Drew Durni, Tom Scheck and Matt Taylor will add height and offense.
Among Maryvale's returning starters are OH Bryce Shepard, MB Brian Harrington and opposite hitter Jeff Harvey.
Lake Shore, ECIC II co-champs last year, returns four starters: three-year setter Nick McDonagh, three-year starter OH Erik Marx, OH Kyle Benzing and MH Brett Farrell. The Eagles return to the B classification after a 13-year hiatus.
Sweet Home is big and athletic, led by 6-6 middle Steve Maxwell, a left-hander who hits from the right side, and Cody Stonish, a basketball convert.
Grand Island is favored to repeat as Niagara Frontier League champions. The Vikings return junior setter Tyler Hinaman, an NFL All-Star last year, and 6-5 OH Jonas Stalyga. GI opens defense of its title today hosting Lew-Port at 4:30 p.m.
St. Joe's looks to rattle Canisius. The Marauders took Canisius to 28-26 in the Eden Tournament. The Marauders return three-year starter Matt Dyrek, who led the team in kills last year with 275. L/OH Jason Clark and OH Aaron Mycek are two-year starters.
Niagara-Wheatfield got off to a quick start winning the Gary Tocke Tournament. Shawn Haseley was named tourney MVP. Kyle Henry is a three-year starter.
Lancaster lacks a go-to hitter for that needed side out, but does return a nice core of seniors: Brandon Nemeti (setter), Taylor Travis (OH), Jon Gall (RS), Brendan Dougherty (MH) and Ryan Zeiger (MH).
>Around the gyms
Fans and coaches who have been clamoring for an official state championship will have to wait one more year. That's when Section VIII will move volleyball to the fall, giving the state the six sections it needs to have a state championship.
Cleveland Hill, one of the birthplaces of boys volleyball under legendary coach/AD Charlie O'Brien, has dropped its program.
Starpoint has added volleyball and will also have JV and modified teams. The Spartans will play a nonleague schedule this year before joining the ECIC in 2010.
>Tocke out at Kenmore East
They are bumping a lot more than volleyballs at Kenmore East.
Gary Tocke, who founded the program in 1968, has been bumped from his head coaching position by Kyle Horvatis, his modified coach, who is a teacher in the district.
"All of our coaching positions are posted annually and, like many districts, active teachers have the first opportunity to apply," said Brett Banker, athletic director of the Kenmore schools. "Coach Horvatis had coached modified for us for several years and felt like he was ready."
While Horvatis was ready to step in, Tocke, 65, was not ready to step out. He had coached with a passion throughout his 41 seasons, compiling exactly 500 wins. He knew the possibility of being bumped existed since he retired from his teaching position in 2000.
"That's the way they do things," Tocke said. "Dick Harvey got bumped as the basketball coach and Marv Matteson got bumped in baseball. I got bumped a few years ago from the track job. Things happen."
Ken-Ton renamed its early season tourney the Gary Tocke Tournament, which was won by Niagara-Wheatfield.
New coaches for 2009: Eric Honsberger (Maryvale), Keith Koch (St. Mary's), Pete Wlosinski (Amherst), Kurt Spitler (Starpoint), John Balisteri (Depew), Kyle Horvatis (Kenmore East).
Class A: Orchard Park. Class B: Cheektowaga. Monsignor Martin Association: Canisius. ECIC I: Orchard Park. ECIC II: Sweet Home and Lake Shore. ECIC III: Eden and Cheektowaga. Niagara Frontier League: Grand Island. Poll champion: Orchard Park.
ECIC I: Kevin Brouillard (OP), Troy Nowak (OP), David Hill (Clarence), Alex McColgin (Hamburg). ECIC II: Steve Maxwell (Sweet Home), Cody Stonish (Sweet Home), Trevor Barrett (Sweet Home), Erik Marx (Lake Shore), Nicholas McDonagh (Lake Shore). ECIC III: Matt Meyer (Eden), Ryan McCarthy (Eden), Tom Makin (Holland), Bryce Shepard (Maryvale). NFL: Tyler Hinaman (GI), Evan Bullard (Kenmore West). MMA: John Jepson (Canisius), Luke Klee (Canisius).
Saturday: Cheektowaga Tourney
Sept. 26: Victor Tournament, GI, Fro
Sept 26: Sweet Home Tournament
Oct. 3: Webster Tournament, OP
Oct. 17: Orchard Park Tournament
Oct. 24: Hamburg Invitational
Nov. 10 or 11: All-Catholic finals
Nov. 11: Section VI finals at Hamburg
Nov. 14: Regionals at Webster
>On the Web
For more information and discussion on boys volleyball, go to the Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com/blogs