It’s not often that a reigning state champion has to go through another in order to keep its season alive in girls volleyball.
Such was the unique circumstances Monday night when seven-time defending champion Eden squared off with fledging state power Portville. One of their championship reigns had to end in the Section VI overall Class C final.
The Raiders are thankful it’s not theirs.
Eden (39-3, including tournaments) kept hope alive that it will cap the season with its eighth straight title by ending the run of the two-time defending state Class D champion Panthers, 25-15, 26-28, 25-18, 25-19. A charged up crowd of more than 600 watched a match that featured plenty of rallies that included phenomenal defense by both teams.
The difference: Eden’s experience, along with the play of Sam Burgio, Sam Logan and Paiton Basinski. The latter two helped take some of Portville’s defensive focus off Burgio, even though Burgio, the reigning state Gatorade Player of the Year, still provided a steadying presence. That calmness in crunch time enabled the Raiders to advance to Wednesday’s sub-regional round of the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Tournament at Chittenango High School in Section III.
“It was really nerve-racking because we didn’t want to be the first (since 1998) not to make states,” said Burgio, the Maryland commit who finished with 21 kills and 15 digs. “They were a tough team to play.”
“When a team has won a state title (like Portville), they know how to handle pressure,” longtime Eden coach Stephen Pierce said. “I knew Portville wouldn’t crumble.”
Neither did the Raiders, who last needed to go more than three sets to win a sectional final three years ago when they were pushed by Southwestern.
Eden and Portville took turns testing each’s resolve in splitting the first two sets. Some service issues by the Raiders coupled by relentless defense opened the door for the Panthers after they lost the first set. Portville gave its vocal fan base more reasons to be excited in third set, taking leads of 10-7 and 14-13.
That’s when Eden surged ahead for good as a kill by Logan (14 kills, three blocks) sparked a 7-1 blitz that enabled the Raiders to take charge.
Each team took turns digging out balls that appeared destined to hit the floor – including Molly Breier, who made a phenomenal save early in the fourth set that led to a the Raiders winning a rally and extending their lead to 5-1. Eden led by as much as 10-3 before Portville pulled within 15-11. Four points was as close as the Panthers got in this one, as as Burgio had three of her eight kills in that set to thwart the comeback bid.
“That’s all you need, just get your hands on a couple balls that would normally fall and frustrate the other team,” Pierce said.
“We’re not used to balls coming over three or four times a point,” Burgio said. “They really got us working and pushed us to play our best.”
Basinski finished with 12 kills and two aces, while Alyssa Durski had 42 assists and three aces.
Beth Miller had 15 kills and eight blocks to lead the Panthers, who lost their first dual-match of the season.
Brooke Decker added nine assists, six kills and six blocks for a Portville crew that beat reigning Section VI champions Clarence (Class AA) and Williamsville East (Class A) during the season and won the Clarence and Williamsville East tournaments.
Pierce said the Panthers deserve to be at states. An enrollment spike led to Portville being bumped in Eden’s class this year, creating the long anticipated clash of champions once the section released the classifications for each team.
“They’re legit,” Pierce said. “When we saw they moved up to Class C (due to a spike in enrollment), we said ‘Oh boy.’ We knew we’d be in for a challenge.”
“The kids did what we asked them to do,” Panthers coach Kelly Unverdorben said. “They had more to lose. … The difference is we’re young. We have the youth. They have a little more experience.”