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Billy Wieberg and Grand Island boys volleyball still going strong

Billy Wieberg and Grand Island boys volleyball still going strong

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Grand Island's Billy Wieberg claps after spiking the ball past Niagara Wheatfield's Matthew Jelen in the second set at Niagara Wheatfield High School.

Billy Wieberg was disappointed when he first tried out for the modified volleyball team as a seventh-grader in middle school on Grand Island at the urging of his mother.

Disappointed because he made the team.

All that has changed.

"I kind of fell in love with hitting the ball and just the overall atmosphere in volleyball," the Grand Island senior says now. "It's not the most popular sport, but once you get into it, you're going to want to keep playing."

Wieberg, along with his best buddy setter Zach Cramer, are senior mainstays of the Grand Island team that won the state Division 2 championship in the fall of 2019, the first state title in the history of Vikings athletics.

There will be no state tournament to look forward to at the close of the present season that was postponed from  last fall, but coach Billy Schultz believes the current team has a chance to be as strong as the state championship aggregation.

"This team, I would say, is pretty close to last year's," said Schultz, a 20-year coaching veteran. "They're still learning to communicate with each other and the blocking can get better. There are some weak spots we can work on, but the all-around defense is pretty good and so is the offense with Bill and Zach returning."

Not only are the Vikings undefeated in seven matches, 6-0 in the Niagara Frontier League, they have not dropped a set entering a match Thursday against Kenmore West. In fact, no opponent has scored more than 19 points in a set against GI.

Grand Island's success so far has been accomplished despite Schultz having to rebuild his rotation because five standout players from the state championship team graduated – David Wynne, Tom Shemick, Nick Keller, Brett Shickluna and Sean Murray.

Wynne has been replaced by his younger brother, Paul, at libero.

"Paul is not quite where Dave was, but he is getting to that point. He's learning," Schultz said.

"For Murray and Keller, I have a junior middle hitter, Jared Doebler, who is kind of learning and getting a little better."

The setter-hitter combo of Cramer and Wieberg, of course, is powerful.

Wieberg is a bit unusual in that at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he combines volleyball with ice hockey. Interestingly, another hockey player, Eddie Kwarciak, at 6-1, has moved into the volleyball lineup at outside hitter. As a sophomore, he scored 16 goals among his 33 points for the Grand Island hockey team.

The Vikings lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Kenmore West, 6-5, in the sectional Division 2 hockey final. It was a game the Vikings once led 4-1.

"That was tough to take," Wieberg said. "Especially because it was my best game."

Wieberg had two goals in the loss, but he has a habit of coming through in most important games or matches.

"Definitely, the highlight of my career," Wieberg said of his play in the state championship win over Jamesville-DeWitt in Albany in November of 2019. He had 18 kills, most of which were set by Cramer, who had 33 assists. Wieberg was selected the MVP of the tournament.

Schultz believes his outside hitting star is a better player this season.

"I would say he's improved," Schultz said. "He's working on being a good team leader."

Being a team leader is something Cramer doesn't have to learn. According to Wieberg, Cramer already excels in that department.

"When he gets mad he starts taking over the court. He will get in your face but at the same time he will go work his butt off," Wieberg said.

"Everything I've accomplished is because of his setting," Wieberg said. "He's been my best friend since I was 9 or 10. Everything we do, we do together."

According to Schultz: "It's tough (to improve) because Billy was already a pretty good player but he still got things to work on and his jump serve is getting pretty good again.

"We're moving him around because of all the triple blocks in front of him. There are more this year than last year."

Through the Vikings first six matches, Wieberg had 73 kills and a .482 hitting percentage along with 14 service aces. Cramer had 151 assists and 11 aces. Wynne led the team with 36 digs.

Wieberg said he and his teammates are having no problem with motivation although there is no state playoffs to look forward to.

"We're still working hard and focusing on winning the sectional title again," he said. "Zack and I are trying to build that chemistry for the young kids so they can win a state championship some day."

Crangle gets 150th win

When Hamburg defeated Starpoint in straight sets on Monday, it was the 150th career match win for Bulldogs' girls volleyball coach John Crangle.

It's Crangle's 12th season as coach of the Bulldogs. This year's team started 6-0 and seems likely to reach the 13-win average Hamburg has attained in his first 11 seasons. Junior middle hitter Maddie Harrison led Monday's victory with 11 kills. Grace Kuzmierz had eight digs while Peyton Webb had 14 service points.

Hamburg still has to face undefeated Sweet Home in division matches before the end of the regular season.

Balance in ECIC II boys

Is there a more balanced league than ECIC II boys volleyball? Hamburg's only loss is to Starpoint. Starpoint's one loss came in a split with Williamsville East. East's other loss was to West Seneca East. West Seneca East had lost just once through Wednesday, to Hamburg.

Starpoint's return match with Williamsville East in Pendleton after a 3-0 loss to the Flames five days before was one of the most intense of the season. The Spartans won 20-25, 25-23, 26-24, 21-25 and 15-11.

Stay tuned.

Tough scheduling

East Aurora/Holland has three losses but hasn't shied away from tough competition. The losses are to Canisius, Orchard Park and Eden/North Collins, which have only one loss among them.

OP boys closing in

Orchard Park (6-0) is undefeated in ECIC I boys, but the battle behind the Quakers is intense. Frontier lost the opening set at Lancaster on Tuesday then won the next three impressively, 25-11, 25-14 and 25-15.

Clarence (4-1) attempted to avenge its only loss at Orchard Park on Thursday. A win by the Quakers would virtually clinch the division title because it would give them a two-game lead over Clarence with only three division matches left. The other teams in the division all have four losses or more.

A look at CCAA girls races

North Collins is 5-0 with just one set lost in CCAA East and owns a two-game lead over Randolph in the loss column. The only lost set was to Randolph. The teams have a return match Wednesday.

Randolph is the only team to defeat Panama of the CCAA West, in a nonleaguer.

Portville is out in front in CCAA Central with six matches left including one each with Olean and Jamestown, its closest pursuers.

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