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Mary Jo Monnin’s Girls volleyball outlook: Hamburg finds top competition close to home

There are plenty of teams who travel to Rochester or drive to far-away tournaments seeking the best possible competition. Hamburg just waits for its league schedule to begin.

The Class A Bulldogs play in ECIC I, with mostly Class AA schools. Why gas up the bus when the competition comes to you?

“We have the benefit of playing Class AA schools all year in our division, which better prepares us for sectionals,” said coach John Crangle. “Although we’ve lost some AA matchups, we often get to 21 points before our opponent. The key is learning to win those games.”

Their league record many not be pretty, but who’s pondering that when the team is lining up in November to have its photo taken with the Class A plaque? Hamburg not only won sectionals last year, it’s been to the last four championship games, winning three.

Four starters return looking to add to the streak. It’s a young team with mostly sophomores or juniors, but that doesn’t mean they lack experience or game IQ.

Junior Taylor Hite is a four-year varsity player and junior Lauren Moelbert has played for three. Junior Emilee Niejadlik and sophomore Lara McCormick are the other returning starters and first-year libero sophomore Maddie Shafer has quickly fit in.

The Bulldogs finished third at the Eden tournament behind two private schools (Mercy of Rochester, and St. Mary’s of Lancaster).

“Our girls have practiced and played multiple positions which gives us the knowledge and skill set to run different offensive and defensive schemes, making us multi-dimensional,” said Crangle. “These girls are coachable and we pride ourselves on a tradition of hard work and high expectation.”

Girls volleyball always has its share of interesting storylines.


• Three teams, Eden, Ellicottville and St. Mary’s all won state titles a year ago.

• Longtime Lancaster coach Sue Pernick is retiring.

• There is an impressive list of scholarship athletes to date: St. Mary’s Leah Meyer to Duke, Eden’s Lainy Pierce to Penn State, Frontier’s Sid Rojek to Marist, Ellicottville’s Courtney Scanlan to Stony Brook, Eden’s Heather Holscher to Daemen and Cattaraugus/ Little Valley’s Sara Crandall, a returning first team All-WNY pick, to Gannon.

Defending champions

Class AA: Orchard Park, last year’s large school poll champion, is on top again this year. It beat Clarence in three games on Monday night in a meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams in the weekly coaches poll. Setter Noelle Poloncarz had 30 assists as the Quakers moved to 5-0 in ECIC I.

Despite graduation losses, the Quakers are still experienced and talented with a lineup of nine seniors. There are three seniors who are four-year starters as well as All-ECIC all-stars — Poloncarz, outside hitters Kristen Stanek and Rebecca Higgins. Senior Christine Zizzi is in her fourth year at libero.

“I have a group of girls that have been on varsity for four years, it’s like a college team with the amount of years we’ve been together,” said coach Greg Lardo. “They’ve already won two sectional titles and are hungry to take the next step.”

Class B: Olean returns plenty of talent from last year’s team, that not only won its first Section VI title, but also reached the state final four.

Setter/opposite Zoe Mahler looks to have a big year after missing parts of previous seasons with knee injuries. She has good hands and is also a standout blocker. Mackenzie Yanetsko is a senior OH who can crank the ball when she’s patient. Destiny Portlow jumps well and plays a smart middle hitter. The Huskies are still looking for a leader and trying to adjust to the loss of standout Janelle Shaffer, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury the first day of tryouts.

Class C: Eden’s state title was its fourth in a row and 10th overall. Lainy Pierce is a two-time All-WNY pick. She will sign next month with Penn State where her parents were athletes and her older sister, Kendall, is a sophomore who played on last year’s NCAA Final Four team. Her father Robert went to PSU 1985-1989, while her mother Kiernan ran track from 1984-1989. She’s played every position from setter to outside hitter. She’s the libero for her club team.

If Eden wins states this year, Pierce, along with senior OH Heather Holscher, will have played on five state championship teams.

The Raiders are currently 6-0 in ECIC IV and 12-1 overall. They lost in the semifinals to St. Mary’s Tournament in their tournament, but will get another chances to face them on Oct. 16 away and Oct. 24 at home.

Eden also boasts sisters Kailey and Meghan Ballou. Kailey was all-tournament at St. Mary’s.

Class D: Ellicottville, won the state title a year ago dropping only one set all year. Courtney Scanlon, All-WNY first-teamer a year ago, leads this year’s Eagles.

Msgr. Martin Association: Leah Meyer of St. Mary’s missed the first week of the season with a stress fracture and right side hitter Ashley Drzymala was out two weeks with a concussion. They are back. “Right now we have a lot of balance in our attack, and we’re finally starting to find our groove,” said coach Don Pieczynski. “We’ve got four legit hitters and a defense that’s pretty good.”

St. Mary’s won its second consecutive Catholic State championship last year and 13th title overall. Meyer is only a junior, but she committed as a sophomore to Duke. She’s 6-2 middle blocker who can swing from anywhere and is a good blocker.

The Lancers’ 8-0 record in Monsignor Martin includes a win in three games over second-place Nardin. The team is 16-3 overall with two runner-up finishes in tournaments. This weekend they are headed to the Garden State Challenge in New Jersey.

ECIC quick sets

Pernick, who has announced her retirement, is a 1974 Lancaster graduate who played on the school’s first interscholastic volleyball and basketball teams.

Pernick’s legacy includes New York State championships in Class A in 2004 and Class AA in 2006 and a run of Section VI titles between 2001-2007. They made it to the state finals from 2001-2007.

She will be replaced by 1998 graduate and JV coach Becky Schrantz, a former All-WNY player for the ‘Skins.

Frontier, Class AA finalist a year ago, returns nine players including All-WNY setter Sydney Rojek,who was third team All-State and this year was named all-tournament at Eden. The Falcons (5-1) have only one loss in ECIC I, to Orchard Park in five games. Frontier has a core of seniors looking to get the job done, Madison Karwas, Kaitlyn Long, Rachel Stephenson, Abby Booth and Caisey and Kaitlyn Lipka.

Clarence is also a contender in ECIC I and Class AA. The Red Devils (10-3, 5-2) won the Clarence tournament and were runners-up in the Sweet Home Tournament.

The team was fortunate to add a new player, 6-0 Karley King, whose family just emigrated from Canada. Freshman OH Meghan Neelon averages 12 kills and 7.0 digs per match. She was all tournament at the Clarence and Sweet Home tournaments. Her mother, Kathy Rich-Neelon, is a former Sweet Home player and coach,who played at the University of Southern California from 1986-1989.

Returning ECIC I all-star, junior OH Gabbi Pacatte, averages 10 kills and eight digs per match and is a fiery court leader. She was named MVP of the Clarence tournament and was all tournament at Sweet Home. Hallie Christopher sets a varied offense and leads the team in assists with 18 per match.

Sweet Home, ECIC II co-champion a year ago, is off to a 5-1 start. Senior OH Jenna Reeser has been a varsity starter since eighth grade. She’s a dynamic all-around player who averages 6.0 kills per game. Junior Emma Hubert and sophomore Rachel Reusch put up a solid block and are big contributors on offense. The Panthers won their own tournament this year.

Williamsville East’s 7-0 start includes big home wins over Williamsville South and Sweet Home. The defending ECIC II co-champion Flames pride themselves on defense led by sophomore OH Carly Shifflet, junior setter Natalie Berrafato and freshman OH Lexi Novak.

JFK plays in ECIC IV where the league title runs through Eden. The Bears were runners-up last year. Setter Jaclyn Smith was team MVP a year ago as a sophomore. She, along with Lexi Chudzik, were league all-stars. Kelsey Kaczmarek is a team leader and Jamie Kuwik has taken over as the No. 1 hitter.

Alden’s only loss in ECIC IV is to Eden and its only other loss was a five-gamer to Depew. Junior OH Natalie Schieder is a reigning league all-star who led last year’s team in most offensive categories. Senior setter Lauren Kocher also is coming off an all-star season. Senior Haley Panek is a top OH.

Depew three-year starter Brooke Guay runs the offense and top outside hitters are juniors, Alyssa Kling and Hannah Benson.

Iroquois looks to return to the Class B title game with senior Camille Wutz, who is a blocking machine. Senior Samantha Brader and junior Julia Winkle are four-year starters. Both are setters with ability to mix up the offense.

“Iroquois had been going through a roller coaster ride with highs and lows throughout the first part of our season,” said coach Laura Carlson. “We finally have found some solid ground and are moving forward with each match.”

Starpoint’s Allison Koithan earned ECIC II all-star honors at libero and leads the team in digs. Kills leader Jenna Faulkner leads a young team with just five seniors.

West Seneca West twins Rachel and Courtney Poirier have five years of high school experience.

Net nuggets

Niagara-Wheatfield, with nine seniors on the roster, leads the Niagara Frontier League at 8-0. Senior captain Kelsey Yeates is a four-year starter and leader in aces. Returning NFL all-star Katie Mazierski is a three-year starter. Two other weapons are senior RH Bailey Salemi and sophomore OH Kailie Sonnenberg.

North Tonawanda coach Jessica Anderson says she has one of the best all-around players in the area with junior OH Gabby Hansen. “She can do it all,” said Anderson. “She’s extremely smart as a hitter and can pass more than half the court, and she’s outstanding defensively.” Hansen was MVP of the Churchville-Chili Tournament. Junior OH Leanna Metzger is a three-year starter with a tremendous serve.

Niagara Falls won six matches last year but already has won five under fifth-year coach Martha Amoretti. Junior Toni Polk was a first team NFL all-star and Abby Edwards is the team’s strongest middle hitter.

City Honors will be chasing its 28th consecutive Buffalo Public Schools title led by returning All-High setter sophomore Julia Panepinto.

Chautauqua Lake, last year’s Class D-1 champs, returns Tara Hunt, Ashton Albanesius, Jenna Einink and Katie Meadows. The Thunderbirds are undefeated in the league and reached the finals of the Falconer Tournament.

Senior captain Sara Crandall, all-tournament at St. Mary’s, is a six-year starter at Cattaraugus-Little Valley. She led last year’s team to the Class D-1 final and has this year’s team off to an 8-2 start. Junior, 6-1 middle blocker Ashlee Harvey is a strong presence and junior OH Jessica Pritchard provides balance.

Allegany-Limestone is led by its outside hitters, 5-9 senior Lauren Ruffner and 5-11 sophomore Allison Watson. Watson is the daughter of Steve Watson, the athletic director at St. Bonaventure.

Wilson, two-time defending champion of the Niagara-Orleans League, went 15-2 and 12-0 before losing to Eden in the sectionals. Senior captain Allie Bubar is in her fourth year on varsity and this year averages 13 kills and 20 digs a game. Senior and captain Emily Lasher takes care of the setting duties and has the Lakewomen off to a 6-2 start.

Albion, winner of this year’s Starpoint and Albion Tournaments, are led by sophmore OH Kelsee Soule and junior OH Sara Millspaugh, who both average in double figures in kills.

Roy-Hart’s roster has 10 seniors in coach Bill Holahan’s 38th season. The Rams are led by 5-10 setter Eliza Schwab, a returning Niagara-Orleans all-star. She has great hands and is a dangerous server. Strong players on the outside are seniors Courtney VanBuren and Justine Wittcop.

Immaculata has reached the last two Monsignor Martin championship games. Senior Jordan Demartino holds the school record for aces in a season. She’s a four-year starter while Sarah Bain has started for three. … Junior Megan Jepson is a solid all-around player for Nardin while sophomore Emily Rand can spike from anywhere on the floor. … Senior Marissa Rofollo is Niagara Catholic’s team captain. … Tori Siracuse is a three-year starter for Mount Mercy. … Sacred Heart returns its setter, Carlee Conway. … Elise Kreuz and Julie Fleming lead a strong junior class for Mount St. Mary. … Kelsey McCarthy was the South Division MVP a year ago for Cardinal O’Hara.