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Open Mike: Girls volleyball rivalry ignited for Frontier/OP

OVER THE BLOCK — Frontier’s Maddie Karwas stretches up high to try to get the ball over the Orchard Park block. Photo by Michael Petro.
Orchard Park coach Greg Lardo joked with Frontier’s Deb Schruefer, before their two teams met Oct. 10 in girls volleyball, that he hoped their match would finish before 11 p.m.

Long matches between the neighboring programs have become commonplace over the past three or so years. This has strengthened an already good rivalry, with the two programs’ leading the contingent of large (Class AA) schools in the sport, during that time.

Orchard Park has gotten the better of Frontier on most of those occasions, after the Falcons were Section VI champions in 2010. Since then, the Quakers have captured two titles of their own, upsetting top-seeded Frontier in the finals in 2011, winning again as the favorite last season and looking primed for a third straight championship.

The two teams played to a very long five-game battle won by host Orchard Park, earlier this season. This time around, on Thursday, with the two teams ranked as the top two large schools in Western New York, No. 1 Orchard Park finally had a quick night at Frontier. Schruefer joked afterward that Lardo got his wish.

“Orchard Park is a solid team,” Schruefer said. “They have more options than we have and they were capitalizing on those options. We have to learn from our mistakes. That’s how you grow.”

The result was just what Lardo had hoped for, but it came as a surprise. His team was able to keep what he thought would be a raucous crowd somewhat subdued, with its play in the first two games. The Frontier faithful did get into game three, as the Falcons took a rare lead, at 19 – 17, but they could not hold on.

“We played a five-game match at our place and it could have gone either way, so we were expecting to see the same tonight,” Lardo said. “To come in here and win in three, I’ll take it, but we weren’t expecting it. They fought at the end, but our experience may have played a bigger part in the result. We haven’t won the division yet, but we’re getting closer.”

Frontier had too many miscues over the first two games and went down a little too easy for Schruefer’s liking, but the veteran coach was happy with the fight she saw in game three, which went to Orchard Park 26 – 24. The Quakers’ senior-led squad – with nine, to be exact – was just too tough.

Schruefer gave credit to senior four-year starter Syd Rojek and her sidekick at setter Taylor Kaznowski on a night in which Frontier did not pass the ball well. Senior captain Maddie Karwas also tried to keep the team together when the miscues began to pile up at times.

“In game three, I liked what I saw,” Schruefer said. “In game two, it was like someone got into their bodies and I was like, “Oh my goodness, whose girls are these?’ You have to have the grittiness and you have to come out, fired up and ready to go. We knew it was going to be a tough match.”

The division is again a difficult one to navigate, as always, but it is especially tough this season, Schruefer pointed out. Lancaster is enjoying one of its best seasons in several years, as the team plays hard for veteran coach Sue Pernick, during her final season with the program. Then, there is Clarence, which has been playing right with the top large schools; past Class A sectional champions Williamsville North and Hamburg are also never easy outs.

The competition, as well as the talent in the league, has brought potential college suitors to many Erie County Interscholastic Conference I matches. There was a college volleyball presence at Thursday’s match.

“For the kids, it’s a good experience and makes them better ball players and makes them more marketable for college,” Schruefer said. “Every night there’s a college coach in one of our gyms, watching.”

When it comes right down to it, there’s a good shot they’ll get one more chance to get to see these teams play each other, quite possibly in another finals rematch. And despite what happened Thursday, they should be ready to sit through another long one.

“These two teams have been around each other a lot,” Schruefer said. “These girls play offseason together, know each other so well and they see each other a lot.”

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