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By Amy Moritz
For the last three seasons, Niagara has dominated the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference volleyball championships and the Purple Eagles revel in the expectations that success brings.
But the road to their fourth straight MAAC title will be slightly different as Niagara competes in its first year under head coach Dottie Porch.
Porch took over the program in the spring after Susan Clements took a job at Wright State.
While the transition hasn't been seamless, the Purple Eagles are right where they've been for the past few years.
Niagara dropped its first MAAC match of the year to Siena - the only team to have beaten them in the regular season the past three years - but then went on a three-match win streak to sit at 3-1 in conference play. This weekend they play at Manhattan and Saint Peter's.
Talk to the team and the focus is all about getting better on the court - blocking, defense and ball control in particular. They're working out the kinks and adjusting to a new coach with a new style, but the trust and confidence has already been established.
"It was an adjustment at first but we know that coach is with us," said senior outside hitter Kari Honomichl. "She wants us to win more than anything. She's doing everything she can and we just have to buy into what she's doing. We're supporting her, especially the seniors - me, Amanda [Wilken] and Michelle [James]. We have her back and I think everyone is on the same page. That helps.
"Also as for this season, it feels so much different as a senior. I don't get these games back. I don't get these opportunities again. So we're just trying to make the most of it. And just play our hearts out every game."
Porch stepped into a situation with its pros and cons. The team was already extraordinarily good. But with that success comes pressure to continue to it.
"It's not stressful to me because I do things differently," Porch said. "[Clements] built a really good program, so stepping into that has been a good transition. I only met her once. I had never been at a practice of hers, never saw how she did things, so I'm just doing things the way that I know how to do things. And I know the things I do yield success."
Porch said she's focusing on teaching more in practice, particularly situations and positions to bolster their volleyball IQ. From Honomichl's point of view, the team is focused on improving in practice, on improving serve-receive, establishing the middle and generally working on individual skills to solidify the defense, have better ball control and generate scoring opportunities.
And through all the focused work comes the unswerving belief that they'll win another MAAC Championship.
"We expect ourselves to absolutely win the MAAC. That standard was set by the class that graduated last year," Honomichl said. "Ever since my freshman year that has been the standard: to win. Our expectation is to win the MAAC and hopefully win a first-round game in the NCAA."

Niagara soccer undefeated

With a 6-0-3 mark, the Niagara men's soccer team earned a spot in a national Top 25 poll this week. The Purple Eagles received 16 votes in the NSCAA/Continental Tire National Poll.
For the last five weeks the Purple Eagles were on the North Atlantic poll, taking over the top spot in the region in the latest poll.
Canisius (7-1-2) is second in the regional poll and earned nine votes in the poll.
Both Niagara and Canisius are off this week. They kick off MAAC play on Oct. 5 when the Purple Eagles host Loyola and the Golden Griffins host Rider.

ECC wins service award

Erie Community College earned the NJCAA Region III Community Service Award along with the Sportsmanship Award, both presented at the recent Region III athletic directors meeting held in Lake Placid. Among the organizations supported by ECC student-athletes are Carly's Crossing, Habitat for Humanity, The Belle Center, the Food Bank of WNY and Cheektowaga Youth Hockey.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com