Wednesday November 30, 2011 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Lainy Pierce (left) and her older sister, Kendall, stand with their brother, Declan, an eighth grader, who may be the next star Pierce volleyball player, after Eden’s Far West Regional win. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)
Kendall and Lainy Pierce aren’t just two sisters playing volleyball at the same high school; they’re stars of a sport with a rich tradition in their family and at Eden, and most importantly, they’re best friends.
Within the family, particularly by their father and uncle, a culture of love for the game has been fostered and the siblings have grown together within that environment. It has helped them connect with each other and given both Division I college prospects the tools to share the spotlight.
While they may play contrasting styles and individually have their own strengths, the results are very much the same. The sisters respect the game of volleyball, their team and each other, which has helped them lead an effort to carry on the tradition of excellence associated with both the Eden program and Pierce name.
Kendall, a senior at Eden, and Lainy, a sophomore, have grown up learning these values from two brothers and coaches, who while also different people with different approaches, have taught them the value of being good teammates and working hard for everything they get. Their father, Robert Pierce, the boys volleyball coach at Eden, and uncle, Stephen Pierce, the girls’ high school coach, have both provided the tools for them to succeed and the two have run with it.
“You can even see it at Randolph with Marah and McKenna Maycock (who’s mother, Robin coaches the two girls at the Class D power) — there’s kind of a sister power there that’s tied to family,” said Kendall, who is set to play as a preferred walk-on at one of the nation’s top women’s volleyball programs in Penn State.
“The communication has got to be there, so we’re not bashing into each other on the court going for the same balls. I’m fortunate, too, because not many people get to play with their sister on the court or get along with their sister so well like we do. It’s going to be weird next year (without her).”
Over the weekend, the sisters got to share in a third consecutive state title as Eden rolled through Class C without losing a game in pool play (6-0) and then defeating Rhinebeck in a three-game sweep (25-20, 25-12, 25-12) in the final led by the team’s two biggest offensive threats.
Kendall, whose uncle believes she is the best player in New York State — thanks to her unstoppable work ethic and ability, in a small 5-foot-6 frame, finished with 18 kills in the final and 55 overall in being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Lainy was not too far behind, compiling 47 kills in nine games, including 19 kills and a team-leading 24 total points in the final.
“It’s been a pleasure to have them for the past three years,” said Stephen Pierce, who last season coached three of his nieces at once with Anna King on the team, as well. “Some sisters squabble but they work very nicely together. Their personalities may be different but they’re both very supportive. They both have a love for the game and play at such a high level.”
The past two-plus seasons, the two have steadily grown into bigger contributors at the highest of levels. Both played for a state championship team in 2009 – Kendall just breaking into the starting lineup and Lainy as an eighth grade call-up. Last year, they became two of the key hitters on a squad that repeated as Class B state champions.
“Even in eighth grade when I came in to serve for her, I felt so special being able to do that,” Lainy said. “Then ninth grade came and I got to start and play all the time with her, and our relationship as sisters and teammates has just skyrocketed from there. I really love that I had the opportunity to play with Kendall.”
Their roles expanded even further this year as Kendall was the team’s go-to hitter and Lainy, sort of the 1-B option. All the while, they’ve been coached by their father and uncle, in addition to some of the area’s top mentors while playing for the Niagara Frontier Volleyball Club and nationally at camps and in showcases.
“As a coach, it’s easy for me to take a back seat, because when Stephen coaches them his standards are very high,” said Robert Pierce, who has coached both his daughters at the 12-and-under, 10-and-under and 18s level, in addition to at camps. “They’ve also had other club coaches with the same personality and who make them work hard. We’ve been blessed with what they’ve been exposed to.”
“They’ve played other sports like soccer and track, but what we were able to give them in the sport of volleyball allowed them to see success quicker and be happier in the sport,” he added. “They always want to be out there on the court. They enjoy playing and practicing. Being in the arena of volleyball is their sanctity. It’s where they forget about their problems and are most comfortable.”
Their father said each have taken different paths to get here. He describes Kendall as a powerful player who absorbs and acknowledges instruction right away. She’s somewhat of an old soul, who’s a romantic, according to her father. On the other hand, a lankier Lainy has a smooth and athletic look to how she plays the game. She is a free thinker who takes a more easy approach to the game and is always excited about what the future holds, her father noted.
“There’s always a lot of comparisons between the two because they’re sisters but it is really not the same animal,” Robert Pierce said. “They may have a different approach but both play hard and are very skilled. Both approach each other and their teammates with adoration and excitement and they admire each other’s abilities.”
While Kendall said she is impressed by how far her little sister’s game has come along and Lainy is in awe of how successful her big sister has become, there’s a competitiveness between the two that remains. That healthy competition has now also come to include their little brother, Declan, the next star in the family, who’s following the same path to success, having played on the varsity at Eden this fall as just an eighth grader.
“We always keep in competition with each other,” Kendall said. “We always want to be at our best so that neither of us are showing each other up. That’s what helps drive and motivate us.”
Much of the competitive juices come from a father and uncle, who both have accomplished so much in their own playing careers and as coaches both at Eden and the club level. It also doesn’t hurt that their mother, Kiernan, was a Division I track and field athlete, as well. While both their father and uncle encourage them to train hard on a consistent basis, Kendall and Lainy appreciate being pushed to be at their best.
“They always make sure your ready,” Kendall said. “They’ll be tough on you, but that’s what you’re grateful for. That and my team is what has gotten me here and to Penn State.”
“I have already seen it with my sister and what she’s gone through and now I’m going to go through the same,” Lainy added. “They keep on you and make sure you know your stuff.”
What both girls have also gotten from their father, and mother, is a love for Penn State University, which is where the two attended and played at the collegiate level. Kendall will be fulfilling a childhood dream by getting to go to Penn State next fall.
“Above my bed and all around our room, I’ve always had magazines and posters of Penn State and USA volleyball,” Kendall said. “It always seemed so far to reach out and touch but I’ve remained determined and with all of my coaches and players around me, they’ve helped push me to get there. We got the opportunity to go to a few Penn State camps. They liked my hard work but it wasn’t until a year-and-a-half ago that I was able to get to that level.”
Lainy has always thought about going to Penn State, as well, but she’s keeping her options open. Of course, there’s a part of Robert that admires her daughter’s sense of wonderment about what’s out there but another part of him that hopes she follows in the footsteps of her parents and sister.
While Lainy will have big shoes to fill when her sister leaves for college, both coaches agree that she’ll be better for the experiences she had along side her sister.
“Lainy has had the luxury of watching her sister and will have the opportunities at the next level because of what she’s learned,” their father said. “The younger sister always seems to have an advantage, because she can sit back and watch the mistakes then through repetition, get it right.”
“Kendall will be a tough act to follow but Lainy has already really come into her own,” Stephen Pierce said. “She’s a very gifted athlete who will do anything to finish off a play.”
Their father believes that although his daughters may not want to admit it, both are feeling the anxiety of no longer playing together on the same team. But no matter who they’re playing for in the future, they’ll always have the connection created by volleyball, family and sisterhood.