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High School Girls Volleyball: Hamburg masters winning close match

Hamburg girls volleyball's sectional championship team includes Andrea Buchanan, Gabrielle Eppolito, MaryJo McEwen, Alyssa Martin, Virginia Tytka, Kendra Quinn-Moultrie, Kendra Kiel, Taylor Hite, Lauren Moelbert, Eric Schneider, Emilee Niejadlik and Lara McCormick and is coached by John Crangle with assistants Steve Chaffee and Megan Moelbert.

Considering all of the work that went into a thrilling and hard-fought run through the Section VI playoffs, it’s safe to say, Hamburg deserved a fairy tale ending. It got that, but not before another size-able challenge in the Class A final. It seems the Bulldogs wouldn’t have it any other way.

Eighth-seeded Hamburg has been no stranger to a close match, especially through the 2012 playoffs, going five games in the quarterfinals and semifinals, so it was no surprise that it played yet another tight one in closing out a third sectional title in four seasons. The final didn’t go five, but No. 2 Grand Island stretched Hamburg to four games before succumbing to the Bulldogs, 25-23, 25-22, 19-25, 25-19.

“After playing a five-game match against Williamsville North and a five-game match against Sweet Home, they don’t hit the panic button,” Hamburg head coach John Crangle said of his team. “They’re confident in themselves and trust that they’re going to execute at the right time...I can’t reiterate it enough, they stay composed through the whole thing. They have a goal in mind and they make sure they can achieve that goal.”

Hamburg moves on to Saturday’s (Nov. 10) Far West Regional in an attempt to move another step forward for the program with a first-ever trip to the state tournament. The Bulldogs will play Section V power Pitt-Sutherland at Webster-Schroeder. The two met once this year at a tournament and played a competitive few sets won by the Rochester-area team.

“These girls work year-round to accomplish this (a sectional title),” Crangle said. “This has been a fun and magical year and we’re looking for it to continue…The girls are excited and they should be; it’s a lot of hard work that they put in to get there.”

Crangle said he believes it’s evident in the play during the postseason that his team is finally completely healthy and playing as one unit. Hamburg got a major shot in the arm right before the playoffs when senior leader and major contributor on the outside, Gabrielle Eppolito, returned from missing five weeks with a leg injury.

“It’s inspiring to know that in tough times we can come together, achieve our goals and play our hearts out to win everything,” said Eppolito, who despite wearing a large leg brace, got up in the air to knock down 14 kills, including the final two to close out Game Two. “I wanted to get back so badly. I tried; I did physical therapy. I still have to play with a brace, but I feel better.”

Not only does Eppolito deliver a hefty left-handed swing difficult for opponents to pick up and handle, but she’s also served as an inspiration to her team playing through some discomfort.

“Having her back really changes the mentality of the team immensely and gives us a confidence level that is much different than when we play without her,” Crangle said. “Once we got our entire roster back and healthy, things started clicking; we trusted that our practice, skill level and volleyball IQ would come through.”
Andrea Buchanan has helped lead Hamburg to its third title in four seasons. She finished with 21 kills against Grand Island. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Hamburg’s other tested veteran leader, Andrea Buchanan, a senior outside, led the team with 21 kills, including firing on the final point of Game One and giving Hamburg a 23-19 lead late in the fourth game. She also helped the Bulldogs get off to quicker start in Game Four with a service run.

Sophomore setter Taylor Hite did a fine job in getting the ball to the outside, away from Grand Island’s length in the middle. She finished with 58 assists and added a number of key drop shots. Classmate Lauren Moelbert picked up some timely kills among her 12. The two also combined to provide an important block in the middle.

In Game 3, Grand Island moved some blocking schemes and used the energy of and several kills from Al Brown, to extend the match. So, Crangle took a chance in response by moving around some rotations. He credited his players for carrying it out so effectively.

“Their height was tough on us and our third balls we were sometimes not hitting right,” Eppolito said. “We needed better ball placement, and volleyball is mostly mental so we needed to focus.”

Yet another long playoff run for Hamburg truly began with that quarterfinal win over top-seeded Williamsville North in a rematch of last year’s Class A title game. North shared the ECIC Division I title and spent time atop WNY’s large school poll.

“We wanted that opportunity again to play them,” Crangle said. “We talked afterward that as great of a win and as much of a highlight it was, we didn’t want that to be the highlight of the year; we wanted it to be a launching pad. And it really has been. We’ve gone on the road and been able to come through and that says a lot about the character of the team. I can’t speak highly enough about their character.”

“We had a realization (during the North match) that we really need to work hard to get what we want and we got it,” Eppolito said.


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