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Portville, East Aurora advance to Far West Regionals in girls volleyball

The sting of losing sectional championship matches last year propelled Portville and East Aurora to title conquests on Monday night.

Portville ended Eden’s dynasty with a straight-set victory in the Class C crossover and East Aurora swept Alden for the Class B crown before an estimated crowd of 350 at Daemen College.

The two teams return to Daemen on Friday for Far West Regional matches. East Aurora (16-0) will meet Wayne at 9 a.m. and Portville (18-2) will play Caledonia-Mumford at 11 a.m.

Portville won consecutive Class D state championships before moving up last year and losing a four-set match with Eden in the C title game.

In the rematch, Portville played with more enthusiasm than the defending champions, celebrating the first point as triumphantly as the last, and took the opening set, 25-21.

“We knew we had to bring a lot of emotion to get through a match like this against them. They’ve been championship forever,” Portville coach Kelly Unverdorben said. “You have to get that first set. We did not get it last year. I didn’t tell them that, but I was thinking in the back of my mind, we’ve got to get that first set because if we don’t, it was going to burst our bubble a lot.”

The Panthers rode the momentum into the second game and won, 25-18. They sang along to “Sweet Caroline” in the huddle before the third set. After opening an early 10-2 lead, the Panthers held off the Raiders’ rally to win the deciding game, 25-21.

“We didn’t want anyone else to beat them but us,” said Sydney Colligan, who had 21 digs, eight aces and four kills, including the winning point. “It gave us a lot of strength and endurance to work hard during practice and come here knowing we could beat them.”

Beth Miller led the Portville attack with 15 kills and four blocks. Haley Unverdorben had 31 assists, Sierra Keim recorded 12 kills and 19 digs, Brooke Decker had five kills and four blocks and Ericka Carlson had 14 digs.

“It feels absolutely amazing,” Miller said. “We knew that they were a really good team and we would have to fight really hard. We came in knowing what we wanted to do and we pulled through. I’m super proud of my team.”

East Aurora avenged its loss in last year’s Class B final and defeated Alden to advance to the Far West Regionals for the first time since 2008.

The Blue Devils won the first set, 25-18, and rallied to take the second, 25-18, after the Bulldogs (15-3) built an early 13-12 lead. Alden was ahead 11-9 in the third set before East Aurora went on a 9-2 run and won, 25-22.

“They had some strong serves and strong hitters but once we settled down and played our game we were able to take advantage of some of the weaknesses we saw,” said senior outside hitter Maddie McLaughlin, who had seven kills and a block. “We came out and we played, maybe not our best, but worthy of our program and I’m proud of how we played.”

The victory was especially meaningful for McLaughlin, who was unable to play the past two seasons while dealing with Lyme disease.

“This is literally a dream come true for me to come back and be able to play the teams they played last year and be able to go farther than they did last year with this group of girls,” McLaughlin said. “There was a long time I didn’t think I was going to be playing sports again and I am beyond grateful just to be a part of this team and have the capability to play volleyball.”

The Blue Devils have now set a championship standard for their program, coach Rebecca Jacobs said.

“It’s a reflection of the girls and the team and their commitment to volleyball and wanting to play and come to practice,” said Jacobs, who won three state championships with St. Mary’s and went to the NCAA tournament twice with Niagara University. “It says something to the underclassmen coming up. It’s kind of set in stone now that we have this winning program and we’ll work hard during the season and the offseason to stay here.”

Sophomore setter Olivia Alessi led East Aurora with 15 assists, five kills and five aces. She got the final kill with a powerful swing from the left side.

“She’s one of those players that will do whatever she can to score a point for the team,” Jacobs said. “Tonight was really a showcase of what she can do for the program. We are lucky she is at East Aurora for the next couple years.”

Shelby Kersten had 10 kills and two blocks for Alden. Sophomore Emma Wlostowski tallied five kills and three aces.

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