We can’t fully dive into the scholastic winter sports season without giving the latest legends from the fall their just due.
Six state champions.
Four state runners-up.
Seems like a slam dunk figuring out the final Power 10 for the 2016 fall season, except one must remember that Monsignor Martin champions whose sports do not offer a state tournament also receive consideration based on schedule and body of work.
That’s how the unbeaten Canisius volleyball team earned the nod as No. 1 for the fall last year. Last year’s eventual Prep Talk Awards Team of the Year ran the table playing an elite schedule that included two wins over eventual state Division I public schools champion McQuaid.
Canisius’ bid for back-to-back unbeaten seasons fell short as it lost twice to eventual Division I state champion Penfield. The Crusaders still captured their 17th straight Monsignor Martin regular-season and playoff titles.
Is that enough to secure a top-10 spot? Is simply being a state runner-up enough to land on the list for that matter?
Let’s find out. Without further ado:
1. St. Mary’s girls volleyball. The Lancers won their sixth straight Monsignor Martin title and 18th state Catholic championship, including their second in three seasons. St. Mary’s beat all of Western New York’s top teams, including eventual state public schools champion Eden twice. The Lancers also beat Williamsville East and eventual state Class A champion Panas of Section I, which is ranked just outside of the USA Today Top 25. Panas beat Will East during the state final four. The triumph over Panas and the state Catholic title sealed the No. 1 spot for coach Don Pieczynski’s crew.
2. Canisius football. The Crusaders won the final contested state championship of the fall season in any sport in wild, comeback fashion in the Bronx. They capped a 10-2 season by securing their second state Catholic title in three seasons with that 50-44 victory in Cardinal Hayes’ backyard. The News large-school poll champions captured their fourth Monsignor Martin playoff title in five years. Canisius’ two losses came by a total of 11 points, including a four-point defeat at eventual unbeaten Pennsylvania state champion Cathedral Prep (ranked No. 62 in USA Today poll).
3. Eden girls volleyball. Seniors Sam Burgio and Molly Breier capped their scholastic careers by winning a state title in each of their six seasons. Longtime coach Stephen Pierce retired after guiding the Raiders to their eighth straight state championship. His 995 victories rank first in state history.
4. Maple Grove cross country. The boys and girls teams swept Section VI titles, with the boys capturing the Class D state title. If results from all of the boys’ races at states were merged (Class A, B, C and D), the Red Dragons would have been the highest finisher from Western New York. The Maple Grove girls finished second at states.
5. Newfane girls cross country. The Panthers helped Section VI extend its streak of state championships in the Class C race to three years in a row. They did not qualify for the Federation race (which the East Aurora girls did by placing in the merged results top 10 after a third-place showing in the Class B race), but securing the school’s first state championship in any sport is special, memorable and enough to earn a spot in this poll.
6. Panama girls volleyball. For the third straight year a Section VI team captured the state title in Class D. The Panthers beat the top seeds in the sectional final and defeated private school Bishop Kearney in Far West Regionals to reach the final four for the first time in program history. Panama rallied from one-set deficits twice in the state final to defeat Argyle.
7. Grand Island boys soccer. An imperfect ending to GI’s quest for a perfect season. The Vikings suffered their only defeat in double-overtime of the state championship game. It was a tough ending but one of the best seasons by a boys soccer team from Section VI.
8. Maple Grove football. The quest for 13-0 and a state championship ended on the final play of the season – a two-point conversion by Cambridge in double overtime. It's not the finish the Red Dragons wanted, but there’s no shame in suffering their only loss at the Carrier Dome in one of the best Class D finals in tournament history – the first in this classification to be settled in overtime.
9. Canisius volleyball: The best boys volleyball team in the area gets the nod for the penultimate spot. Seventeen straight championships. That’s impressive and hard to ignore. So too is the fact the Crusaders have won 65 of their last 67 matches the past two seasons.
10. Clarence girls soccer: The Red Devils won their fourth straight Section VI title en route to their third straight state semifinal appearance. Their two defeats of the season came against teams outside of Western New York – including a season-ending loss to eventual Class AA state champion Arlington. A victory against Grand Island, which shared the Class A Far West Regional title but failed to advance to the final four via penalty kicks, also carries sway.
The next five: Cruel arithmetic is the line my predecessor Keith McShea often used when there were more honor-worthy subjects than spots available. Those who just missed the top 10:
- Canisius soccer: A 15-win season included a flawless run against Monsignor Martin foes – capped by a second straight postseason championship. Canisius lost in the state final to downstate Catholic-power Chaminade.
- Dunkirk football: The Marauders’ season to remember was a historic one as they captured their first Section VI title en route to the state Class B semifinals.
- East Aurora cross country: After being bumped up in classification and considered a large school due to enrollment numbers, the boys and girls teams won the Section VI Class B titles and performed well at states with the boys placing sixth and girls third.
- Iroquois field hockey: The Chiefs won the Section VI title in unbeaten fashion before a 1-0 loss in the final four to eight-time state champion Lakeland ended the 21-1 campaign. Iroquois hit the road to win two playoff games by 1-0 scores in a Far West Regional victory over Pittsford Sutherland and state quarterfinal win over Section III's Whiteboro.
- Nardin soccer. One of the best seasons ever by the Gators (16-2-1) included a 9-0 run in the league. A 17-game unbeaten streak, including 12 straight wins, ended with a 1-0 loss in the state final to Long Island’s Sacred Heart.
High honors: Akron girls cross country, Alden boys cross country, Alden girls volleyball, Allegany-Limestone boys soccer, Amherst girls soccer, Barker field hockey, Bennett football, Clarence boys soccer, Clarence boys volleyball, Clarence girls volleyball, Cleveland Hill football, East Aurora girls swimming, East Aurora girls volleyball, Eden boys volleyball, Falconer boys cross country, Fredonia/Silver Creek/Dunkirk/Forestville girls swimming, Fredonia girls soccer, Frontier boys cross country, Grand Island girls soccer, Hamburg boys volleyball, I-Prep/Grover boys soccer, Iroquois boys soccer, Lackawanna boys soccer, Lancaster football, Lancaster girls tennis, Lockport girls cross country, Maple Grove girls soccer, Nardin cross country, Newfane girls soccer, Niagara-Wheatfield boys golf, North Collins girls soccer, Orchard Park girls swimming, Orchard Park golf, Pine Valley boys soccer, Portville girls volleyball, Sacred Heart field hockey, Sacred Heart golf, Sacred Heart swimming, St. Joe’s cross country, St. Joe’s golf, Sweet Home girls cross country, Williamsville East girls volleyball, Williamsville North field hockey, Williamsville North girls gymnastics, Williamsville South boys cross country, Wilson boys golf.