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Raiders at their best in winning fifth state title in a row

NOBODY GETS THROUGH EDEN — Lainy Pierce (left) and Meghan Ballou get up for a block during Eden’s playoff run, which for a fifth straight season led to a state championship. Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes.
It’s been a point of pride, and now a bit of tradition, for the Eden girls volleyball team to be playing at its most flawless, at the biggest time of the season.

The Raiders chose the perfect time to show off that brand of volleyball, as they coasted to yet another state title, finishing it off on Nov. 17 in Glens Falls.

Eden won the Class C state title match in straight sets, 25 – 7, 25 – 18 and 25 – 15, against Millbrook, to garner the program’s fifth straight championship and 11th overall, success unmatched by another program in any sport around the 11 sections of New York.

“The kids pride themselves at peaking at the right time. It was nice to be able to see them do that again this year,” head coach Stephen Pierce said. “My brother [Robert Pierce, also the boys team coach] was helping me out coaching and, at some points, we’d just look at each other and say, ‘They can’t play much better than this.’”

Eden didn’t lose a set in sectional and regional play, or throughout the state tournament weekend, which included going 6 – 0 in pool play on Nov. 16.

‘All weekend, I thought the girls played at a high level,” Pierce said. “In the state final, the girls maintained the level we work to play at. I’m pleased for them and they were excited and feeling confident. It was nice to see, especially with a team of younger players.”

Lainy Pierce, one of only three seniors on the team, was named the tournament’s most valuable player, for a second straight year, while playing both seasons out of position as a setter. The Penn State-bound Pierce had five serving aces and three blocks, in the final. She will play mostly libero in college.

Also in the final, senior middle Heather Holscher who, along with Pierce, has now played on all five consecutive Eden state title teams, finished with 19 kills and two blocks. The Daemen-bound Holscher was good for a kill from virtually anywhere on the court, according to her coach.

Sophomore middle Meghan Ballou notched nine kills and five aces with her tough-to-handle serve, and joined Holscher and Pierce on the all-tournament team. Her coach pointed out that, even the champion usually gets only two players on the all-tournament team, but Ballou was so good that fellow coaches found it difficult to leave her off the team.

“I think she surprised a lot of people,” Pierce said. “It’s nice to have a rising star in your program.”

On the outside for Eden, junior Kailee Ballou and freshman Sam Burgio combined for 15 kills in the final, while freshman libero Molly Brier brought a solid brand of volleyball. Stephen Pierce complimented all three of the team’s freshmen for making a big impact, including Alyssa Durski, who started at libero until Brier returned from injury in mid-October.

Pierce said that he was also impressed with his team’s block, especially being that Eden is on the smaller side and has been working on that issue, throughout the season. Junior middle Bree Tutuska recorded six blocks, along with two kills, in the final.

After beating Millbrook twice in pool play the day prior and then handling game one of the final, Eden experienced one its few lulls of the tournament, during the second game. But Pierce called a time out at 18 – 18 and the team settled down to record 7 straight points and win the game, before coasting in game three.

“It’s hard to sustain a high level of play over five games against a good team,” pierce said, noting that Meghan Ballou’s serving was a big factor in helping Eden cruise to wins in game one and three.

The Raiders began this run of supremacy by winning Class B titles in 2009 and then 2010 and have won the last three in C. Past titles include 2007 (C), 2006 (B) and in 2000-02 and 1996 (C).

This year’s team also included senior Taylor Mitchell and underclassmen Claure Czjaka, Carly Nasca and Lindsay Gearhart.
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