Orchard Park has one of the oldest and proudest boys volleyball histories in Western New York. The Quakers won the first of their 12 sectional championships in 1973 when the varsity sport was just beginning to gain a foothold in these parts.
The Quakers won their last sectional title in 2015 under now-retired coach Matt Lexner. Rick Albano, who assisted and then succeeded Lexner, believes his present team is capable of the same kind of success.
Joe Nicometo, Hudson Harris and Ian Rauh lead Orchard Park against Williamsville North at Williamsville North High School on Wednesday, April …
"Oh, yes, definitely," Albano said without equivocation when asked if this is the best of the five teams he's had as head coach. "They are definitely in that conversation. It's a once-in-a-lifetime type of team as far as going to get the opportunity to play for a championship."
Orchard Park improved its record to 8-0 overall and in ECIC I after a 3-0 sweep at Williamsville North on Thursday. That clinched the league championship for OP because it owns a sweep over the second-place team, Clarence (5-2). The Quakers have a match at Lancaster and another at home against Frontier before the section playoffs.
ECIC I is unusual in that most division matches are competitive. There are no virtual walkovers against undermanned or unprepared opponents.
Although Orchard Park is undefeated and only Clarence and Frontier have won a set against it, only one of eight opponents has failed to score in double digits in all three sets against the Quakers.
The Orchard Park success is built on a foundation of three senior standouts, who will play college volleyball. Hudson Harris will play at University of Charleston in West Virginia. Joe Nicometo will play on the first varsity team at Maryville in St. Louis, which is moving up from club team status. Ian Rouh is going to Alvernia College in Reading, Pa.
"I had a couple of options going into my junior year," Harris said of his college opportunities. "Everything got jumbled because of Covid and a couple fell through due to nobody's fault. I went to Charleston for a visit and liked it."
At Charleston, the 6-foot-7-inch Harris will play in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association with powers Penn State and George Mason.
Harris began playing varsity as a freshman while the other two moved up as sophomores. A fourth senior, Jake Schrantz, a tri-captain with Harris and Nicometo, started as a varsity fill-in as a freshman and has become a mainstay.
"It's going to seem strange next fall when I don't see 6-7 (Hudson), 6-4 (Rauh) and 6-3 (Nicometo) across the front line for that first practice," Albano said.
The three are so talented and flexible that they can play all over the court, Albano said. "But Joe is primarily outside attack. Ian is primarily in the middle and Hudson is being asked to do something he hadn't done before and play on the right."
Harris, whose older brother Hunter played basketball at Orchard Park, was a hoopster until seventh grade when he turned his attention to volleyball. The move was encouraged by his mother, who played volleyball at Syracuse.
Hudson Harris' twin sister, Summer, plays for the Orchard Park girls team. Brother and sister have a good-natured rivalry going.
Summer Harris moved from middle to right side hitter before her brother.
"Definitely," Hudson says when asked if he gets some teasing from his sister. "She likes to remind me she made the move from middle to right before I did."
Albano uses the family rivalry to prod Hudson, too.
"After his sister has a big night," the coach said, "we ask Hudson, 'Where is your big night?' "
He has had plenty of "big nights." Before Wednesday's match, Harris led the team with 18 service aces and was second to Nicometo's 120 kills with 83. Rauh had 60 kills and a team-leading 15 blocks.
Schrantz led the team with 221 assists. Junior Kyle Zelasko led with 64 digs.
"Zelasko is being recruited to play libero in college," Albano said. "He's only 5-7 or 5-8, but he plays outside hitter for us. He's a dog, a competitor, too."
Another important senior is Connor Bowman, who filled in on the front line as a freshman and has worked his way up to regular status. A pitcher and first baseman, Bowman will go to D'Youville.
"Schranz and Connor are kind of glue pieces," Albano said. "They do a lot of the dirty work without getting a lot of attention. Without those guys, we really would not be where we are right now."
Two sweeps over Clarence rank as big accomplishments for the Quakers. Clarence won the last section Division I championship held in the fall of 2019.
"Clarence has been our toughest competition since I've taken control of the program," said Albano, who is from Spencerport in the Rochester area and played on two Division III national championship teams at Springfield College. "They have a sound program with a nice lineage of great players. It's nice to have a healthy rivalry with them."
In a non-Covid year, Orchard Park would have matches against with powerhouse teams such as Canisius and Eden/North Collins, but they couldn't be arranged this season. The Quakers did score nonleague victories over St. Joe's and East Aurora/Holland.
It would seem almost certain that Orchard Park will be the No. 1 seed when the Section VI playoff brackets are announced on May 6.
Undefeated Grand Island (10-0), which clinched the Niagara Frontier League title with a 3-0 win over Niagara Falls on Wednesday, likely will be the No. 1 seed in Division 2.
Grand Island on top
Grand Island (9-0) leads the Niagara Frontier League girls race as well as the boys race. The Vikings girls have a one-game lead in the loss column over Niagara-Wheatfield.
NF's only loss was to Grand Island in the only meeting between the two in league play. In fact, the Falcons have lost only four sets, the other to Lockport.
Grand Island also faced Lockport (6-2) and Niagara Falls (1-7) only once in league play.
CCAA girls picture
Chautauqua Lake (11-1) and Panama (10-1) each have one loss in CCAA North girls play after splitting their season series. Each has three matches to play against teams that each already has swept.
CCAA East looks like it will go to the wire with North Collins (7-0) ahead of Gowanda (4-1) and Randolph (8-2). Randolph split its matches with Gowanda and has lost to North Collins.
Portville (10-0) leads CCAA East with a return match against Olean (9-2) on Wednesday.
Showdown on deck
Portville's last game is a non-leaguer at Eden on May 7, which should be a highlight match of the girls regular season.
Eden, playing an independent schedule, has lost only to Monsignor Martin champion St. Mary's of Lancaster. The only other team to win a set over the Raiders was large school Lancaster in a 3-2 Eden victory.
ECIC II girls race unsettled
Hamburg's girls (6-1) lead ECIC II, but the Bulldogs have to play Williamsville East (8-2) twice and Starpoint (6-2) once. West Seneca East (5-2) is in the picture, too.
In ECIC IV, Alden (8-0) hopes to wrap up the regular-season title before its May 7 match at Springville (6-1) in the finale.
BPS boys have close duels
Hutch-Tech and Olmsted are tied for the Buffalo Public Schools lead at 6-1, with each having a match against Lafayette to play. Hutch won the fifth set, 15-10, for a 3-2 win over the Owls in their first match after Olmsted tied it with a 29-27 win in the fourth set.
The return match was just as thrilling with Olmsted winning, 25-23, 27-25 and 25-23 as Saw Roldy had nine kills, six digs, eight aces and two blocks while Elias Humphrey had four assists.