Orchard Park and Hamburg left no doubt as to where the best volleyball in Section VI is played.
The Quakers and Bulldogs, both members of ECIC I, captured Section VI titles on Tuesday at Sweet Home. Orchard Park beat yet another ECIC I team, Frontier, 25-16, 25-21, 25-17, to win Class AA while Hamburg needed four games to oust previously undefeated Grand Island, 25-23, 25-22, 19-25, 25-19 in Class A.
The Quakers (14-3) and Bulldogs (13-7) advance to Saturday’s Far West Regionals at Webster Schroeder. OP will play Mercy at 4 p.m., a team they lost two of three matches to this year. Hamburg will take on Pittsford Sutherland at 2 p.m.
Hamburg had a 6-6 record in ECIC I, but that didn’t faze Hamburg coach John Crangle, who walked out of Sweet Home with a section plaque under his arm. “Coming in here we used that battle experience, getting beat up a little bit in ECIC I, and we played every team in ECIC I tough.”
Because of their .500 record, the Bulldogs were a No. 8 seed. That didn’t stop them from eliminating No. 1 seed and defending Class A champion Williamsville North in a five-game thriller in the quarterfinals. “We played about five weeks without our full starting lineup,” said Crangle. “Once we got our startimg lineup back, we trusted our knowledge and skill level, and the overall confidence went up.”
On top of their games for Hamburg were Andrea Buchanan with 21 kills, Gabrielle Eppolito with 14 and Lauren Moelbert with 12. Taylor Hite had 58 assists. Grand Island was the class of the Niagara Frontier League this season. They won the league at 14-0 and finished the season 17-1. Al Brown had 19 kills, Alex Griffin had nine digs and Cassie Oursler four blocks.
For Orchard Park, there may be no place like home, but Sweet Home’s gym comes in a close second.
The Quakers made it two section titles in two years on the Home of the Panthers floor and they also won the Sweet Home Tournament this year, prompting coach Greg Lardo to say: “This is pretty good, we like this gym.”
The OP-Frontier match had the makings of a good one. The teams split during their regular season matches in ECIC I. OP and Frontier came in ranked 1-2 in the Western New York Coaches poll.
OP talks about wanting to have a 2:1 ratio of aces to serving errors. Its serving was superior as it had 12 aces to only two errors. Leading the way was Hannah Johnson with five aces. Maryellen Devic had 13 kills while Rebecca Higgins added nine. Noelle Poloncarz had 29 assists.
It was Frontier’s third straight trip to the final. It won it in 2010. The Falcons, who graduate five seniors, finished 12-5.
“His team is solid, they have solid ball control and they’ve been together for a long time,” said Frontier coach Debby Schruefer. “They do some nice blocking. Poloncarz does a nice job moving the ball around. They had a few more attacks going. We knew coming in it was going to be a very aggressive match, well-played. We have a ton of respect for them. In a way, we are kind of a mirror image of each other.”
Sophomore McKyla Brooks, a first-year varsity player for the Falcons, finished with six kills and six blocks while libero Kaitlyn Long had 13 digs. Schruefer also gushed about the play and leadership of her junior setter and co-captain Sydney Rojek.
Orchard Park never trailed in the first game, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on the way to a 25-16 win. Game two was much closer, but had the same outcome for OP. Tied at 14-14, OP went on a 5-0 run and never looked back.
Frontier may have been down 2-0 in games, but it hung tough in game three. “If you didn’t look at the scoreboard you would have thought it was a one or two-point game,” said Lardo.