Maryellen Devic is undeniably the go-to player on the Orchard Park girls volleyball team and she even welcomes the chance to show the boys team a thing or two.
Earlier this season the teams were practicing at the same time. The boys were interested in adding the back slide play to their offense. Since it is used much more in the girls game, they turned to someone they knew could demonstrate.
"Their coach had me run through the steps for it. I was a little nervous hitting on the boys' net, but I've run the slide so many times it wasn't too bad," said Devic. "Both teams get along really well, we hang out together outside of volleyball and support each other."
The backslide is a play in which the hitter runs left to right and jumps off one foot to kill the ball on a backset. With the boys' attention squarely focused on her, Devic took the set and crushed the ball over the net cross court.
Devic is capable of inflicting the same damage on ECIC I opponents. She's a 6-foot middle hitter who simply plays at a higher level. She hits high hands, can place the ball into the deep corners and can terminate a play. She was named MVP of the Sweet Home Tournament after the Quakers won it. She was named all-tournament at St. Mary's and Frontier.
"She's the rock for us," said OP coach Greg Lardo. "When we need a sideout, most of the time she's getting it. She's got a lot of different shots, she keeps opponents off balance and she understands the game."
Devic has given a verbal commitment to The College of Saint Rose in Albany and will sign her partial athletic/academic scholarship in November.
She is one of many reasons the Quakers are favored to repeat as Section VI Class AA champions. OP has six players returning for their third season. Devic and Myan Idziur are seniors while Kristen Stanek, Rebecca Higgins, Noelle Poloncarz and Christine Zizzi are juniors.
The Quakers (4-1, 3-1) are currently the No. 1 ranked team in the Western New York coaches poll. Their next match is tonight when they host Hamburg.
The Quakers have dedicated their season to 2011 OP graduate and All-WNY volleyball player Peter Brady, who remains paralyzed at ECMC after breaking his neck in a swimming pool accident.
Brown to Maryland
When she first started her career at Grand Island, Alex Brown said she was the worst player on the modified team. The 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter turned it around in a big way as she will sign a national letter of intent with the University of Maryland in November. "I didn't stop playing. I knew my mom played, and I knew I was expected to play, and I'm really glad I did," she said.
Brown went to Maryland's camp the summer before her junior year. She impressed the coaches and was offered a scholarship. With two full seasons to play in high school, she gave them a verbal commitment.
GI coach John Head said Brown is playing much more relaxed this year. "Her junior year she put a lot of pressure on herself to be the Division I player on the court," he said. "She thought she had to be the best player on every point. This year she's way more comfortable. She just plays hard and wants to make good play for herself and her teammates."
Six-foot-3 senior OH Cassie Oursler hits the ball hard, controls her body well at the net and puts up a big block, along with 6-0 senior Kassie Bennett. Eighth-grader Linsay Proctor earned the starting spot at libero.
Grand Island is off to a 5-0 start in the Niagara Frontier League winning all its matches in three games. The Vikings finished fifth out of 32 teams at the Penfield Tournament.
Elsewhere in the NFL: Lockport finished 12-2 in the league last season, sharing the title with Grand Island and North Tonawanda. The Lady Lions look to be in the hunt again with Megan Schneider, Brittany Sanford and Kailyn Szymanski.
Lew-Port's top three athletes are Julie Law, Theresa Fleckenstein and Morgan Boss.
Outside hitter Katie Mazierski spearheads the offense, Melissa Goeseke carries the defense at libero and Kelsey Yeates is the top setter at Niagara-Wheatfield.
CLASS A: Williamsville North, 12-0 in ECIC I last year, is off to a 4-0 start. With five of its first six league matches on the road, the Spartans have already collected wins at Frontier, Clarence and Hamburg. Setter Emily Hopkins (second team All-State) and libero Haley Short are five-year starters. Haley Adams is a three-year starter.
"This year's team has good ball control and plays good team defense," said coach Keith Hopkins. "We spend a lot of time working on serving, try to hit our zone and hoping we don't run into a team that's 6-4, 6-3, 6-2."
CLASS B: Albion returns four players from last year's team, which lost in the Far West Regional. Back are Cady Messmer, the team's only club player, Eboni Taylor, Jasmine Smith and Kelsee Soule. The first-year libero is Brie Dixon.
The Purple Eagles are off to a 4-1 start with the only loss coming to Wilson in a five-game match decided by three points. The rematch is Oct. 2 at Wilson. The top players for the Lakewomen are league all-stars Lindsay Bryer and Jordan Glosser.
"We don't have a lot of height, but we have a lot of heart," said Albion coach Ann Capacci. "These guys are pretty tough defensively. They're all over the floor, they will do what they need to make us successful."
CLASS C: Few programs can compare resumes with Eden. The Raiders won the state title for the third year in a row and the ninth overall. But this is not your typical year. "For the first time in a long time, we're an underdog. We are very, very young. We are asking all the veterans to do things they've never done before," said coach Stephen Pierce, who team is 3-0, 7-1.
Wanting its best athlete to touch the ball as much as possible, All-WNY outside hitter Lainy Pierce has moved to setter. Two middle blockers senior Megan McCarthy and junior Heather Holscher will move between outside and the middle. Look for sophomore Kailee Ballou on the outside.
CLASS D: Randolph, a state finalist in volleyball (and basketball), is off to a 4-1 start in CCAA II. League all-star, Mckenna Maycock a sophomore outside hitter, and senior Mandy Finch are the Cardinals' top athletes. Senior Kaylee Luce is an experienced libero.
"The new girls are working hard show and showing improvement every game. I think we'll be in the mix at the end of the season," said coach Robin Maycock.
Ellicottville returns all its starters and looks to dethrone Randolph. The Eagles won the Falconer Tournament and are currently undefeated. Janae Hamilton and Maddie Szpaicher were CCAA III all-stars a year ago.
MONSIGNOR MARTIN ASSOCIATION: St. Mary's is the defending CHSAA champion having won its 12th title on their home court in 2011. The Lancers are a self-motivated bunch with plenty of leadership. They are led by 6-2 middle hitter Leah Meyer, ranked one of the top sophomores in the country.
The team is deep with hitters including Meyer, junior Jacqueline Steck and Amber Dryzmala. Helping control the ball will be junior setter Abigail Salamone and senior libero Sam Giardina. The future of the program is in the hands of freshman Jessica Kranz, Alyssa Zirnheld and Baily Dolegowski.
So far the team won its own tournament beating Orchard Park in the final and reached the final four of the Frontier Tournament.
Eight seniors return for first-year Sacred Heart coach Allison Boehm, a graduate of the school. Tri-captains are senior OH Shelby O'Neil, three-year player Natalie Reesor and returning libero M.C. Duggan. The middle hitters will determine how far the team goes.
Immaculata won the Starpoint Tournament.
Quick hitters - ECIC
Among Cheektowaga's goals are to win ECIC III for the fifth year in a row. The Warriors went 12-0 in the league, were Class B finalists and B-1 champions. Senior Allison Nestico is a dominating left-handed rightside hitter and an ECIC all-star. Junior Danielle Szymkowiak is an OH and leader on the court.
Sweet Home junior Jenna Reeser is a national team club player who led last year's team in kills. Senior Lydia Penberthy is a versatile player while senior Jessica Padley leads the attack from the right side. The Panthers are in ECIC II this year.
Williamsville East returns All-WNY first teamer Erica Moser, a 6-foot outside hitter named all-tournament at St. Mary's. She is the Flames' first attack option as well as one of the best passers on the team. Ally Rung has been the Flames' starting setter for four years and boasts a steady game. Dominique DiPietro joins Moser and Rung as tri-captains and plays opposite Moser.
Frontier was Class AA finalists a year ago. Three-year starter Sydney Rojek is having a big junior season so far making the all-tournament teams at St. Mary's, Sweet Home and Frontier. Senior middle hitter Amanda Michels is a strong blocker who has experience at the net.
Williamsville South has decent depth as its chases a winning season. Meaghan Miller returns at libero and is a captain along with Rebecca Postek, a third-year outside hitter.
Returning ECIC II all-star Rebecca D'Hilly is a four-year starter and the school record holder in assists for West Seneca East. Sara Wasilewski and Amanda Rusczyck are senior captains.
The expectations are high this year at Lake Shore with many returning starters, including senior Lauren Gotsch and Katherine Martynowicz.
Madison Clark led Starpoint in assists and aces last year as a freshman. Junior Brianna Clark is back after missing last season following knee surgery. She started as a freshman. Senior Jen Meyer is a three-year player who excels on defense.
First-year Alden coach Tania Martzolf builds around ECIC IV all-star Miranda Daucher, a strong middle and three-year starter. Lauren Kocher and Jenna Snyder return to the starting lineup.
Middle blocker Natalie Barrea is West Seneca West's only returning senior starter. Junior libero Courtney Poirier averaged 11.2 digs last year. Her twin sister, Rachel, led in assists.
JFK is an athletic, talented team led by last year's leading scorer, senior Lisa Hoffman, and returning setter, junior Kelsy Kazmarek.
Iroquois senior Rachel Metz earned ECIC II all-star honors after breaking the school record for most blocks in a season. Other three-year starters, Kelsey Jankowiak and Julia Winkle, have the Chiefs thinking Class B final.
Hamburg finished seven-points shy of its third consecutive sectional title last year. Last year's ECIC II champs move into ECIC I with plenty of firepower. Sophomore Taylor Hite and senior Gabrielle Eppolito are three-year players while sophomore Lauren Moelbert is in her second season.
Senior middle Emily Kasprzyk can dominate at the net and Lauren Parr is a powerful outside hitter as East Aurora looks for the answers after the loss of seven seniors. Greg Stone is the Blue Devils' first-year coach.
First-year Pioneer coach Jessica Silsby is expecting big things from three-year starters Zoey Jones and Sarah Gabler.
Amherst's returnees are senior libero Hannah Morrison and sophomore OH Maddie Aston.
Clarence senior Emily Brown is a returning starter coming off a promising club season.
Tina Raczynski is the first-year coach at Maryvale.