The fact she's the only returning All-Western New York first-teamer in field hockey might make Taylor Wolf one of a kind, but her coach will argue it goes much deeper than that.
Hamburg coach Kelly Owens has seen far too much of her senior goalie to know she does a lot more than collect shutouts. Wolf has a penchant for tackling tough situations with a relentless determination as well as a smile. The mask she wears during games can't disguise her off-the-charts leadership skills and a personality teammates feed off.
"When she's in the cage they are so confident on that field. She's got those little things you can't teach," said Owens. "Last year in Penfield [Far West Regionals] we got the snot kicked out of us, and never once did her head hang, she is always positive. There is always a smile on that kid's face."
Coming off her junior year, it's not hard to see why. Wolf led Hamburg to the sectional final in all three sports she played.
The field hockey team won Class B for the second year in a row. She allowed a measly four goals in 20 games with 15 shutouts as the Bulldogs finished 17-2-1. This year the Bulldogs are the No. 5-ranked team in WNY and are off to a 7-1-1 start in ECIC.
As a forward on the basketball team, Wolf lead the Bulldogs to the Class A-1 final where they lost to Grand Island. In lacrosse they reached the Class B final bowing to Lake Shore.
Senior Sarah Stando, Melissa Obenshein and Jill Ford are among the team's scoring leader. "Jill basically took Andrea Goldbach's spot," said Owens. "She does a great job feeding the offense, distributing and filling that role [center-midfield] really well," said Owens.
Otto retires at Barker
No. 2-ranked Barker is 6-0 under first-year coach Jeff Costello. a tireless worker as well as a technology teacher at the school.
Jude Otto coached the team for the last 38 years before retiring. Under Otto, Barker made two final four appearances as states, won 13 sectional titles, 12 Niagara-Orleans League crowns and for the last six years, did not lose a game in the league.
Barker is off to a 6-0 start in the league with forward Kayla Moeller, sweeper Jessica Hefferon and center/mid Mackenzie Strickland the top returning players.
Otto is among the founders of girls sports at Barker where she began her coaching career in 1974-1975. She said coaching remains her passion, but handing the reins to Costello, her JV coach, made the difficult decision easier. She's still the Section VI chair and currently oversees the sport's new website at: www.section6fieldhockey.com.
Around the cages
Iroquois is the unanimous No. 1 ranked team in the Western New York Coaches poll. Despite graduating 10 seniors, the Chiefs are off to a 7-0-1 start in ECIC III with the tie coming with Hamburg. A gifted stick handler Meghan Fonfara has 14 goals.
Riley Fenn is also having a big year for the Chiefs as teams try to mark Fonfara.
"Everyone's going after Fonfara," said Iroquois coach Pete Tonsoline. "She's a force, she's almost 6-foot, a really strong girl. They want to neutralize her so Riley sees a loose ball in the circle, and she's been picking up the rebounds. She's been putting the ball away." The Chiefs also boast a strong defense and goaltenders Brianna Malczewski and Jamie Ward, both up from the JV, have been a pleasant surprise.
No. 3-ranked Clarence, Class A finalists a year ago, welcomes new coach, Amber Flint-Cleaveland, a 2002 Barker graduate. She is in her third year as a biology and chemistry teacher. Clarence's 7-1-1- record includes a 3-2 upset of Hamburg, along with wins over Orchard Park and Lancaster. It's only loss was to No. 1 Iroquois, 2-1.
Courtney Stefanik has played ever minute in goal behind a solid defense, led by Katherine Weyant. The Red Devils' leading scorers are both juniors - Kasey Thur, who leads ECIC I with 10 goals, and Giovana Fasenello, who checks in with seven.
"The girls themselves - their personalities are meshing," said Flint-Cleaveland. "They are playing really well, getting along, not much drama. They are working well as a team all the way from the starters to the people on the bench. I'm having such a great time."
No. 6 ranked Williamsville North is another top program in Section VI that has had a longtime coach retire. Sara Columbo, a 2000 graduate who won a sectional title in 1998 with the Spartans, takes over as coach. Kris LaPaglia retired after a 20 years in which she won eight Section VI titles in the last nine years and state titles in 2007 and 2010.
The Spartans are two-time defending Section VI Class A champion. They finished 16-2-1 last year. Carrying on the tradition will be senior captains are Elise Kellner and All-WNY honorable mention Christine Murphy. Hannah Polkey leads the team in scoring with nine goals.
Junior Mia Martin of No. 4-ranked Williamsville South has 18 goals this season with five-goal games against Orchard Park and West Seneca East. "Her shot is just so powerful, she sees the net, she sees the opening. Once she gets loose in the circle, it's going to be a goal," said Billies coach Mary Ferenczy. "She's got talent. She's right up there with Julie Gentner-Murphy with the rocket."
Martin is surrounded by other talent including senior midfielder Cassandra Hopkins, junior goalie Allison Staebell and Alyssa Presutti (four assists versus Orchard Park). South's 7-1-1 record includes its first win over Williamsville North since 2006, the year of the October Storm.
Eden is an opportunistic team that could make some noise in the postseason. Against Iroquois they didn't give up w winning goal until less than 1 minute remained. They beat Pioneer scoring the game-winner with under 40 seconds left. The Raiders (5-2-2) are led by senior Nicole Fazzolari, an aggressive, harder-working center-forward.
Lancaster scored 15 seconds into OT to beat Williamsville North 1-0, its first win over the Spartans since 2004. Left wing Allison Luksch is third in scoring in ECIC I with eight goals. Goalkeeper Melissa Stachowiak keeps her team in games. The team boasts some nice athletes as Allie Stewart was All-WNY in lacrosse and McKenzie Kuehlewind is Section VI track champion in the shot.
Kenmore East and Kenmore West are fielding a combined team. They could be sleepers in Class A. Kenmore won the early-season Barb Field Tournament at Newfane behind the MVP performance of Morgan O'Brochta. Kaeli Mathias has an impressive 15 goals. . Brianna Ronan of Pioneer leads ECIC III in shutouts with four. . Sacred Heart started a program this year and had 30 players try out. . West Seneca East, Class B finalists a year ago, broke the school record for wins in a season last year with 14. . No. 10-ranked Akron looks to reach the Class C final for the second year in a row.