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Eden leads reunion of area’s best girls volleyball players

It’s been just about impossible to put together an All-Western New York team in girls volleyball in the past few years without having representation from Eden.

After all, the Raiders are the local gold standard in the sport. They’ve won seven straight state championships, including this year’s title match against Millbrook.

“It never gets boring,” Meghan Ballou of Eden said.

That sort of drive for success is partly why Ballou and teammate Samantha Burgio head up the 2015 All-Western New York squad. The 12-girl team is selected by area coaches.

“It meant a lot to us this year,” Ballou said about the latest Eden championship. “We wanted to leave it all on the court. Some of the girls have been together since eighth grade, and it’s really great to win the last state tournament.”

Seven straight state victories are pretty impressive, but 17 straight appearances in the state’s final four might even be a bigger accomplishment. That’s longer than most of the team members have been alive.

“It’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Ballou said. “Every team comes to beat you. Every team is gunning for Eden. It’s like we have a target on our backs.

“The good thing is that every girl that comes in to the team works hard. We’ve been at the tournament for 17 years, so we know what to expect.”

Ballou, a senior, thus ends her scholastic career as a five-time state champion. She was on the state’s all-tournament team twice (grades 10 and 11).

Her teammate, Burgio, had an even better season – at least according to the New York Volleyball Coaches Association. The group picked Burgio as its player of the year in Section VI. The Eden coach, Stephen Pierce, took coach of the year honors.

The best volleyball players usually participate in the sport for most of the calendar year, as they play for their club teams when the high school competition is done. Therefore, a gathering of Western New York’s best is something of a reunion for the girls.

“All of these girls are a team in a sense,” Ballou said. “It’s great to see everyone back on the court.”

Speaking of state champions, Portville won its second in a row in Class D, and the Panthers are represented on the list of Western New York’s best by Lydia Lukowski.

The senior had the honor of serving the championship-winning points at the end of the fifth and deciding set of the match with Haldane of Section I. She was named the most valuable player of the tournament in her class.

Clarence made it to the state’s final four as well, and two Red Devils were named to the list of the area’s best players. Karley King and Meghan Neelon helped made school history by leading Clarence to a win over Webster-Scrhroeder of Section V in the Far West Regionals. King was an all-tournament pick in states, while Neelon is a first-team all-state pick.

Williamsville East also won a Section VI title, with the win coming in Class A. Carly Shifflet set a school record for the Flames with 510 kills, while teammates Lexi Novak added 479 kills during the 2015 season.

Sweet Home, which lost to Williamsville East in the Section VI final, was led by Rachel Reusch. The senior was her team’s most valuable player and made several all-tournament teams.

Lindsay Proctor was the top player for Grand Island. She led the team in kills, digs and aces for the past two years.

Among Msgr. Martin Association schools, Bailey Dolegowski and Alyssa Zirnheld earned top honors in Western New York. Dolegowski was MVP in the MMA, while Zirnheld had 410 kills this season. Emily Rand of Nardin joined them on the first team; she has been a first-team All-Catholic pick for two straight years.

“They’re all great players,” Ballou said.