Cinderella, also known as the Olean girls volleyball team, will get to stay at the ball for a while longer – at least until Monday night.
The Huskies, a lowly No. 7 seed, knocked off No. 1 seed and defending Class B champion East Aurora to claim the B-1 championship of the Section VI playoffs on Thursday. The scores were 21-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, and 25-23.
Olean coach Carrie Peters, having survived a five-setter against Lake Shore in the semifinals, didn’t think this one would be easy either. She was right.
"We knew we were going to have to battle for every single point," she said. "East Aurora played a wonderful game. I’m just so proud of the way the girls came back. I’m just absolutely speechless. I can’t believe it.
"I anticipated us being aggressive. But with the youth on the team, I didn’t know if we could hold it together long enough to make it. I thought it would be a work in progress. But we have great leaders."
Olean looked ready to crack a couple of times in a match that left the crowd at Daemen College thoroughly drained. After losing two of the first three sets, the Huskies almost let a good-sized lead get away in the fourth set – only to hold on to even the match.
Then after falling behind early, Olean jumped out to a 20-16 lead - only to see the Blue Devils get within one a couple of times. But the Huskies - with only one senior on the roster – found a way to win.
"They play well under pressure, Peters said. "They deal with it pretty well."
"I’m so proud of us," captain Destiny Custer said. "We played so hard. I think people underestimated us, coming into games with a seventh seed."
Custer finished with 27 digs and four kills, while Sophia Renaud had 32 assists and 16 digs and Adele Dwaileebe had 17 kills.
Next up for Olean is the Class B championship, which will be back at Daemen on Monday. There Alden, the B-2 champions will be waiting.
That sounds good to first-year coach Amber Breyer, even though she had a ready response when asked if winning titles comes easily to her.
"No!" she responded. "This stuff really raises my blood pressure."
Even so, Breyer and the rest of the Bulldogs remained calm enough to beat Springville in four sets to take the title. The scores were 25-17, 25-18, 22-25 and 25-11.
"Our tradition is to play our game," Breyer said. "We don’t like to focus on the other team. When we break a huddle, we always say, ‘together.’ We always play together, because that’s the only way you’re going to win."
That’s the way it worked two years ago, when the Bulldogs claimed the overall Class B title in the sport.
The two teams came into the game ranked first (Alden) and second (Springville) in the seedings. One of the few differences between the teams became obvious with a look at the roster. The Bulldogs featured Shelby Kersten, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter. She had sister Jenna Kersten setting her up throughout the night, and Springville didn’t have an answer for that sort of height. Shelby led the Bulldogs with 15 kills.
It could be argued that the older Kersten had a home-court advantage of sorts. She’ll be playing at Daemen next year.
"Honestly, one of the most exciting things about playing for a Sectional championship is to play here - playing on the court where I’ll be spending the next four years," she said. "I’m super-excited."
Emma Wlostowski chipped in with a team-leading 10 digs and four aces to lead Alden in those categories. But it was a solid team effort overall by the winners.
"It’s very much a team sport," Kersten said. "As long as we are talking and communicating, I know we’re going to come up on top."
The Bulldogs had defeated the Griffins twice in the regular season, although the last matchup went five sets.