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Boys volleyball outlook by Mary Jo Monnin: Buzzwords for the season: Parity, great competition

In the first three weeks of voting in the Western New York Coaches Boys Volleyball Poll, there have been three different teams ranked No. 1. Of the six tournaments that have been reported to The News, there have been six different champions.

If you’re getting the idea the talent is widespread this season, you’d be as accurate as an ace landing in the middle of the floor.

“I’m not surprised. It’s parity, but not in the sense of mediocrity,” said Clarence coach Kevin Starr.

“There are some really, really good teams. All of us coaches expected going into the season it was going to be like this. It’s so cool to see so many really solid teams. I don’t know if it’s this way in other sports, but we’re all enjoying this season so much. A lot of us coach other teams’ kids in club season. In 34 years I’ve never seen it like this.”

Looking to repeat

Canisius senior Brian Costello is generally acknowledged as the best setter in WNY. He’s the only returning All-Western New York player. Last year he set the Crusaders to a 24-5 overall record and a 9-1 league mark. Canisius won the Monsignor Martin Association playoff championship for the 13th consecutive year and tied for the regular season championship with St. Joe’s.

Canisius junior Trevor Gooch was first team All-Catholic last year and MVP of this year’s Hamburg Tournament.

It took three years of state tournaments in boys volleyball before Lake Shore broke through in 2012 as the first team to qualify from Section VI. The Eagles lost the final in three games to Bellmore of Section VIII, ending a memorable 21-4 season. Plenty of talent returns, including one player with a bright future, freshman Devin Joslyn, an all-around talent. Helping run the offense has been sophomore Kyle Wishman. Senior Brad Owens is being counted on for his play at libero and for being a leader on a young team.

Defending Section VI Class A champion Orchard Park graduated most of its starters from last year’s 22-4 team.

Two starters this year know what it’s like to be a state champion. Nolan McArdle and Brian Manley were on the Quakers’ state champion relay team in swimming last winter. On land, McArdle is one of the top setters in WNY. OP is off to its slowest start since 1977, but expects the improvement the team is making will surface in October.

Jeff Biddle made his season debut on Monday after missing the start of the year with a broken foot.

Quick sets

Hamburg is riding a wave of confidence after winning Saturday’s Sweet Home Tournament and starting the season 3-0 in ECIC I. Tournament MVP Patrick Stroh and Doug Horbachewski were ECIC I all-stars a year ago. Stroh is a dynamic left side and a very good jumper. Horbachewski can play all three of the front row spots. Sophomore setter Ryan Dils is a three-sport athlete who makes the Bulldogs go. Trevor Vail is a very physical rightside, who also plays club rugby. Zach Yerington was all-tourney at Clarence and Sweet Home.

When one Hamburg starter missed the Sweet Home Tournament due to illness, Tom Hoff, the team’s third middle and a blocking specialist, took advantage of the chance to prove himself. Coach Brian Carroll said the team elevated its play down a man and became a better team. “It was really good to win down a man, we showed our team can still function, the kids who came in left the day confident about themselves,” he said.

St. Mary’s has been a surprise. The Lancers recorded the upset of the year when it knocked off then-No. 1 ranked St. Joe’s on its own floor two weeks ago. Tyler English, first team All-Catholic a year ago, has been named all-tournament in all three competitions St. Mary’s has played in: Maryvale, North Tonawanda and Sweet Home.

“He’s really come on this year. From last year to this, it’s just his confidence that’s making the difference,” coach Keith Koch said of his 6-3 senior.

This is only his second year of volleyball for senior Matt Wrobel, and the 6-foot-3 outside hitter leads the team in blocks. Sophomore Alex Hokaj is leader in digs.

Frontier, Class A finalist a year ago, is a contender to make a return trip with second team All-WNY Dylan Durni. He was last year’s kills and points leader, and this year was all-tourney at Eden. His brother, Drew, is a redshirt freshman at the University of Hawaii.

Also earning second team All-WNY was Jacob Gleason, a junior setter who led last year’s team in assists. The Falcons also return last year’s leader in blocks (Erik Hatten), digs (Peter Lotocki) and Jeffrey Taylor on the outside. Hatten is coming off an ECIC I all-star season.

Newcomers are Thomas Stoklosa, a state qualifier in swimming and a highly touted baseball player. He’s starting at middle hitter. Patrick Quinlivan is another multi-sport athlete who is starting at middle hitter.

Eden has no seniors but that doesn’t mean the expectations aren’t high. The Raiders went 12-0 last year, winning ECIC III. Hadyn Herc is a 6-4 junior who leads the team in blocks. Sophomore Declan Pierce is one of the most explosive players in WNY. He can control a game with superb passing and wicked jump serve. Cole Overhoff has an excellent serve and quick reflexes.

Amherst got a boost of confidence by being competitive with the top teams in the Clarence and Cheektowaga tournaments. Evan Hall leads the Tigers in kills, blocks and aces and works well with fellow seniors Dante Merrill, Alex Touma and Myron Harvey.

Look out for Maryvale. The Flyers, 10-2 last year in ECIC III, have eight seniors including Ryan Robida, a league all-star, two-year captain and solid setter. Tyler Nosal is a strong passer and joins Robida as an honor student.

Jordan Teed and Derek Kaczorowski have come over from other sports and are proving a quick study. The Flyers have plenty of height with three players in the 6-3 to 6-4 range.

Clarence won its own tournament for the first time in the event’s 27-year history. The Red Devils’ motto this year is “no ball hits the floor.” Skyler Reinhardt, a senior setter, was MVP of Clarence Tournament. He runs multiple offenses very well and spreads the ball around. Brandon Hill is a three-year starter. The Red Devils handed Orchard Park its only league loss last year.

Williamsville South moved to 10-0 on Monday night beating Starpoint in three games. Second team All-WNY Anthony Podgorsak had 18 kills. The Billies were champions of the Maryvale Tournament led by the MVP performance of Joe Zanelotti. Steve Zaprowski and Zanelotti are returning ECIC II all-stars.

Cheektowaga senior Noah McGhee is among the team’s leaders in kills while junior Adam Reichert is a primary passer.

Lockport, winner of the North Tonawanda Tournament, returns 6-foot-8 middle Jason Donorovich. He’s expected to garner interest from Division I recruitiers for his size and skill. Senior setter Jack Whalen is the Lions’ career assist leader and an NFL all-star. This is Eamon Yates’ third year at libero.

Seniors Evan Koehler and Gregg Hart are three-year starters for West Seneca West, off to a 4-0 start in ECIC I.

Lancaster returns two outside hitters who started last year as freshmen — Jay Baumann and Ken Rudz. Starting setter Mike Spengler has proven effective on the right side playing in a 6-2 format. Tyler Witt, Matt Devic, Trevor Gabamonte and Joe Mescall are juniors who have filled in well.

A threesome of seniors will help decide Kenmore West’s fate: Niko Mancuso, Mitch Maracle and Nestor Pascua.

Senior Tom Duszkiewicz was second-team All-Catholic for St. Francis. He’s a three-year starter along with Jack Moretti at setter and Dave Kennedy on the outside.

St. Joe’s, which earned a share of last year’s Monsignor Martin regular season title, returns second team All-WNY Ricky Crumlish, who led the team in kills last year.

Jordan Kydol is the only returning player for Cardinal O’Hara.

Grand Island, winners of the Cheektowaga Tournament, is led by returning NFL all-star Brock Tetreault and second-teamer Mike Podgorney.