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Frontier to meet inspired Lancaster in final, Hamburg edged

SET COMING — Senior captain Syd Rojek sets the ball earlier in the season. Frontier played for a Class AA title. Photo by Michael Petro.
Frontier’s most pressing task, going into the Class AA girls volleyball final on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at Sweet Home, may be to match the emotion of a Lancaster team, playing hard to hold off the end of coach Sue Pernick’s career.

A friend of the Western New York coach, Deb Schruefer recently spoke on behalf of her colleague at Pernick’s retirement dinner. So, Frontier’s coach realizes the resolve and enthusiasm Lancaster has for its longtime leader.

It was so strong that it helped Lancaster through a three-game sweep of AA’s top-seed and two-time defending sectional champion Orchard Park, in the semifinal round on Nov. 1. Meanwhile, Frontier swept Lockport in the other semifinal, to advance to the championship.

“We have to play our game and play with the same passion as them,” Schruefer said. “In the Lockport match, we did have a little lull [in a 27-25 game one], and they needed to fire it up. They need to know that it’s OK to celebrate those big points.”

Pernick and Schreufer run their programs in similar manners and their players are familiar with one another, from taking part in the same camps and on the same travel teams. The two also attended graduate school together and are co-chairs for Section VI volleyball.

Frontier was the team to break Lancaster’s long run of titles in 2008 and since, the Falcons have won one more, while Lancaster’s last title was in 2007.

“I have a lot of respect for Sue and the Lancaster program,” said Schruefer, who ran into other coaches who have retired, such as Robin Schifflet of Clarence and Sally Kus of Sweet Home, at the dinner. “It’s kind of weird that another great coach will be retiring.”

To match some of Lancaster’s passion, Schruefer will look to four-year setter Syd Rojek and Maddie Karwas, whom she called the team’s silent hero. She said Kaitlyn Long has also played well for her team. Frontier and Lancaster finished closely behind O.P., in this year’s Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division I standings.

Also locally, Hamburg was 2 points away from a fifth straight trip to the sectional final and another upset, but lost in five games to Williamsville East.

After a slow start to the season – with two sophomores and two juniors in the starting lineup – Hamburg was beginning to heat, up in October. The Bulldogs, who have won many close road matches to make it to the Class A finals in prior seasons, came up with two more victories on the road, during this year’s postseason as a 10th seed.

But Hamburg was tripped up in a 25 – 23 fifth games loss to No. 3 East, in a match in which three games were decided by 2 points. Hamburg had beaten Grand Island in a three-game sweep and No. 2 North Tonawanda in four.

“Our girls absolutely emptied their tanks, but sometimes good teams beat other good teams,” Hamburg head coach John Crangle said. “It wasn’t a match that I wish we could go back and do anything differently. They just made the last 2 points before we did.”

Juniors Taylor Hite and Lauren Moelbert were catalysts for the team all season, playing on the outside. Hite moved from setter to make room for sophomore Lara McCormick. Fellow sophomore Maddie Shafer also played a key role for Hamburg as its libero.

Crangle said his team peaked at the end of the year, after taking its lumps playing against senior-heavy teams like Orchard Park, Frontier, Lancaster and Clarence in ECIC Division I. “There was a period where they had to adjust to the speed of the game and become confident in themselves and each other,” Crangle noted. “The [semifinal] is really a good match for these younger girls to take as a learning experience. I wanted them to be better today than they were yesterday, and they accomplished that.”


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