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LeMoyne-bound Buchanan exemplifies dedication in Hamburg volleyball resurgence

Andrea Buchanan signs her letter of intent to attend and play volleyball at LeMoyne, while surrounded by, from left: parents, Rick and Gretchen Buchanan, Hamburg volleyball coach John Crangle and athletics director Pat Cauley. (Photo by Mike Petro)
John Crangle looks back with astonishment at what Andrea Buchanan wrote down as her team goal four seasons ago as a freshman on the Hamburg varsity girls volleyball team. It was simply to win a match.

Buchanan wasn’t just showing off her youthful innocence and inexperience or aiming low. Coming off a tough season the year prior as an eighth grader playing with the varsity, Buchanan was just relying on her experiences as part of this team and personal building activity Crangle instituted in his first season as head coach, taking over what was once a struggling program.

She’s come quite a ways, and so has the program. Now a senior, Buchanan helped take a varsity team once looking for the smallest of victories to one winning the ultimate of prizes among Section VI competition three out of the past four seasons.

“The girls are now champions and they play year-round volleyball together,” Crangle said. “It’s amazing to go back and see these things and how far they’ve come.”

Buchanan is the last player left from Crangle’s original team so it couldn’t have made him more proud, and a bit emotional, to introduce her as a LeMoyne-bound student-athlete during a letter of intent signing ceremony Wednesday (May 1) at Hamburg.

“Things here have changed so much,” said Buchanan, the All-Western New York First Team Large School outside hitter. “I continue to be amazed by this game and the sport in general. At the end of the year, it was a hard decision about whether to go on and play college. I always thought I would but the main reason I did it is that I wasn’t ready to give it up.”

She is part of a group that came up with volleyball talents but just as importantly was also steadfast in making sure the program’s losing ways of the past would become no more.

“We had a lot of great girls come in one year and there was just something in the air here,” Buchanan said. “Something changed — how we interacted, we all had a different mind-set. We were kind of sick of that losing streak. There was a time when we just looked at each other and said, ‘I don’t want to play like this anymore’ and we changed that.”

Crangle said Buchanan was the backbone of that effort having been with the team all of that time and helping the Bulldogs make the upward climb to a surprising program-first championship in 2009, then a second one the next year and after losing in the final in 2011, yet another championship the next year.

The Bulldogs didn’t just pass insurmountable tests during that first run, they did so again in beating top seeds and highly-favored North Tonawanda one year and Williamsville North in another playoff push.

“Andrea has helped lay the foundation for our program and in my opinion, is the example of a student-athlete at Hamburg,” Crangle said. “It’s easy to look at wins and losses, but her work ethic in the classroom and the gym has also motivated both her older teammates and younger girls. We focus on respect and team camaraderie and she has exactly that from the coaches and teammates alike.”

Many of her teammates joined her inside the library at Hamburg to help celebrate the occasion and lend support, just as most of them have done together on the volleyball court for the better part of the past several seasons.

“My teammates have taught me so much, not just about volleyball,” Buchanan said. “And playing with the older girls when I was so young was a huge lesson to me. I had to learn from them. I had to earn my respect, prove myself everyday for them. Being with the younger girls has taught me the importance of leadership and how it can fall apart easily and you have to be the one to keep it together.”

She played alongside many of those same teammates competing for the Buffalo Volleyball Academy from November to May for the better part of six years. Buchanan said that group became like her second family and she now looks forward to them making many of their own college decisions down the road.

Buchanan’s college choices were enhanced by her excelling in the classroom, as well. In addition to being selected All-New York State Second Team, she was the Sportsmanship Award recipient and helped Hamburg as a team garner the third highest academic average in the state.

“It was a long process and decision (on colleges),” said Buchanan, who’d like to major in mathematics and accounting. “I looked at the team chemistry and how they interacted. When I visited, they seemed like the perfect fit.”

Like she was for a Hamburg program looking for just the smallest of lifts and receiving the biggest of rewards.

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