2015 champions: Clarence (Section VI, Class AA), Williamsville East (Section VI, Class A), Iroquois (Section VI, Class B), Eden (Section VI, Class C), Portville (Section VI, Class D), St. Mary’s (Monsignor Martin).
Eden and Portville won state titles, St. Mary’s lost in the state Catholic semifinals, and Clarence and Williamsville East both reached the state final four.
2015 All-WNY underclassmen: Samantha Burgio-11 (Eden), Meghan Neelon-11 (Clarence), Lexi Novak-11 (Williamsville East), Lindsay Proctor-11 (Grand Island).
2015 All-WNY Large School: Neelon, Novak, Proctor, Julia Kurowski-10 (Lancaster), Julie Milbrand-11 (North Tonawanda).
2015 All-WNY Small School: Burgio, Molly Breier-11 (Eden), Summer Slade-10 (St. Mary’s).
Chasing history: Eden has won seven straight state titles, which is a record for consecutive New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championships in girls volleyball, but don’t expect the Raiders to fall back to the pack.
They return five starters, including reigning state Gatorade Player of the Year Sam Burgio, who was also the Prep Talk Player of the Year. Burgio and senior classmate Molly Breier, the libero, have been on the team since middle school and have an opportunity to make even more history.
“If we win a state title, they will be the first six-time state champions,” Eden coach Stephen Pierce said. “I don’t think anyone’s done that, period.”
If anyone has, it’s probably a local since Sweet Home is the only other team to win six straight state titles (1990-95).
A six-pack of state championships would be the big-ticket historic achievement, but Burgio will have other chances to leave her mark. The Maryland commit also is within striking range of setting the Eden record for career kills and service aces. She will graduate early and begin life as a student-athlete with the Terrapins in January.
Breier is being recruited by UB and Binghamton and has an offer from Division II Edinboro. Other returning starters for the Raiders include senior Alyssa Durski, junior Sam Logan and sophomore Paiton Basinski. Durski has started since sophomore year.
Oh, well: The addition of Springville into ECIC IV has affected the Eden-St. Mary’s series. Two of the top programs in the area will only face each other in tournaments (provided they are in the same ones). The home-and-home nonleague matches are no more (at least for this year) because Eden now has two more divisional matches on the docket.
“It’s disappointing for sure,” Lancers coach Don Pieczynski said. “We built up a pretty good rivalry. It always offers really good competition. We go at it. There’s a lot of pride on the line. We’d like to continue. I’m sure we’ll meet in tournaments.”
The first chance the two will likely cross paths is Sept. 10 at the 12-team St. Mary’s Tournament.
St. Mary’s moves forward: Although the Lancers graduated seven seniors, the cupboard isn’t bare.
Senior Caitlin Meyer returns and has been receiving Division II offers. Junior Summer Slade has an offer from Canisius and is also getting interest from West Virginia and Kent State. Others hoping to lead St. Mary’s back to the state Catholic tournament include sophomore middle hitter Hannah Mulhern and freshman Kelly Clubbersly.
Northtown powers: Clarence and Williamsville East both accompanied eventual state champions Eden and Portville to Glens Falls last season. Can either of them (or both) make another run to return to the Adirondack Region?
“I think we just have to keep doing what we do, except do it better,” Clarence coach Michael Meyer said.
“Everyone wants success,” Flames coach Scott Wright said. “We hope to be the best team we can be, come playoff time.”
The politically correct comments aren't the only similarities between the teams. Each returns several key players.
Skinny on Clarence: The Red Devils return five starters and 12 total, including Alabama-commit Meghan Neelon, a state Gatorade Player of the Year nominee. Neelon, a two-time All-WNY pick, has made the United States Intercontinental Team four straight years.
Other returning starters include seniors Maddie Christopher, Emiley Kuhn and Mary Owen and junior Melissa Rapzel. Sophomore Jaide Cummings is going to transition from libero to outside hitter.
“She got a lot taller and she had a chance to play outside in club and she has a great swing,” said Meyer of the move.
This is unusual year for Clarence in that it’s the first time in a while it will start more seniors than underclassmen. “Those underclassmen are finally seniors,” Meyer said. “A couple years ago, we started four sophomores and they’re still starters.”
Lexi’s back: Williamsville East also has an elite player back in the fold in senior Lexi Novak. She’s one of 11 returnees for the Flames.
Junior Mikayla Greenfield returns as setter and will look to feed classmate Ally Jozwiak and senior Leah Orsini. The Flames could receive a mid-season boost from Rachel Steffan, a key player during the playoff run who is out with a broken ankle.
The only real downer: the graduation losses of current Canisius player Carly Shifflet and Geneseo-bound Samantha Mendelshon.
“There’s going to be a little shift in the lineup," Wright said. "We have to find out who our six best are.”
Talent watch: It’s no secret Western New York has volleyball talent (boys and girls).
Among the many players expected to shine include Grand Island senior outside hitter Lindsay Proctor and Alyssa Babinger and Julia Kurowski of Lancaster.
Etcetera: Sacred Heart could be a contender with solid players Micaela Ryan and Mia Wild leading the Sharks attack.
-- City Honors remains independent and will play a 20-match schedule. The Centaurs, who will be in Class B during the postseason, expect to remain competitive even though they're young and replacing seven gradauated seniors. City Honors does return six to the mix: Nashid Fulcher, Alena McKelvey along with Jenna Balducci, Victoria Guzman, Jewell Eason and Philomena Burger.
-- Hamburg lost two All-WNY talents to graduation but return three juniors entering their third seasons in Kailee Herbst, Eleanor Clarke and Meg Seider. The Bulldogs finished last season ranked fifth among large schools.
What’s new: Two-time defending state champion Portville moves from Class D to Class C. Section VI Class B champion Iroquois moves into Class A.
Save the dates: St. Mary’s Tournament, Sept. 10; Eden Tournament (at Buffalo Niagara Center Court), Sept. 24; St. Mary’s at Nike Invitational in Phoenix, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1; Clarence Tournament, Oct. 1; St. Mary’s at Garden State Tournament at Fairleigh Dickinson, Oct. 8-9; Horseheads Classic, Oct. 15; Williamsville East Friday Night Lights Tournament (at BNCC), Oct. 21, Hamburg Tournament, Oct. 21.
Championship time: Section VI Tournament begins Oct. 26; Section VI finals, Nov. 3-4, Nov. 7; Regionals, Nov. 12; state Final Four, Nov. 19-20; Monsignor Martin Association, TBA; state Catholic Tournament, TBA.
Who are the favorites to win Prep Talk Player of the Year? Reigning Prep Talk Player of the Year Burgio, Neelon, Novak, Proctor, Kurowski and Slade.