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High School Girls Volleyball Preview: Immaculata continues on the rise

Returner Allyson Massimi sets up a volley as teammate Bailey Gawley (left) looks on for Immaculata, which brings back most of its team this season after finishing as MMAA runner-up in 2011. (Photo by Ron Larson)

A young Immaculata team pulled off some surprises last season on its way to a second-place finish in the Monsignor Martin and taking fourth at the State Catholic Tournament. All of this year’s accomplishments should come as no surprise.

Third-year head coach Kyle Shanley said optimism abounds at the private school in Hamburg for the upcoming season as six players who played a major part of last year’s successful and surprising run return.

Among them are six-foot senior middle hitters Bailey Gawley and Rachel Moll, both of whom have started for three years and provide Immaculata with needed size inside. At the outside hitter position, the Bears will feature junior Jordan DeMartino, who will be counted on for her defense and shot-making ability, and sophomore newcomer Riley Moll, who worked to improve her game in the offseason.

After playing setter last year for the varsity as just a freshman, Sarah Bain returns to control the offense, while versatile junior Samantha Grasso is expected to contribute heavily at outside hitter or libero. Returning junior defensive specialist Allyson Massimi is expected to bring stability. New to the varsity this year will be juniors Amanda Cary and Justine Chiavetta.

Once again, Immaculata will be looking to unseat Western New York-power St. Mary’s who ran away with the league and state title last season. To help in trying to pull that off, Shanley has prepared an aggressive tournament schedule, which includes St. Mary’s, the host winning that competition on Sept. 8, along with Starpoint, Frontier, Eden, and Pittsford Sutherland. These tournaments will include most of the top teams in the state.
Blockers Lauren Moelbert and Kendra Quinn-Moultrie return for Class A finalist Hamburg.

Hamburg has worked hard to establish itself as one of Western New York’s most successful girls volleyball programs of late, so it’s no surprise that fourth-year head coach Jon Crangle begins 2012 once again with an heir of excitement and confidence.

Coming off what Crangle calls one of the most memorable seasons, despite for the first time in three years coming up short of a Section VI title, Hamburg’s expectations remain high as four starters return to the court. The Bulldogs finished off a program-first division title with an unbeaten 12-0 mark in ECIC II. They again made it to the sectional championship game but lost in five games to Williamsville North.

This year, Hamburg will combine the experience of seniors Andrea Buchanan and Gabrielle Eppolitto and sophomores Taylor Hite and Lauren Moelbert with a group of enthusiastic newcomers.

“It’s great as a coach to have girls that love the sport and play and practice it year-round,” Crangle said. “This year’s team is a great mix of athletes that have played varsity for years along with a nice core group of younger girls that will learn from our veterans.”

Buchanan, a fifth-year varsity player at outside hitter, and Taylor Hite, who’s already in her third year with the varsity at right side, were both All-Western New York Second Team selections last year. Eppolitto and Moelbert, who both were All-ECIC II First team honorees, will play in the middle. Hamburg graduated five seniors, including All-State libero Alicia Porack and All-WNY First Team selection Jessica Wood.

The Bulldogs will move back up into ECIC I this season but remain in Class A for the postseason. “We look forward to competing against some of the best teams in the area as we are again setting our sights on competing for the championship,” Crangle said.

Frontier returns eight players from last year’s Section VI Class AA runner-up squad, so head coach Deb Schruefer said the team chemistry is already solid just a week or so into the start of the 2012 season.

Helping to create that chemistry is having a three-year starting setter in junior Syd Rojek, who is coming off an All-Western New York season. Also returning from last year are seniors Rachel Bartosz and Hannah Booth as outside hitters, Amanda Michels as a middle blocker, Nicole Pietrus on the right side and Lindsey Kaznowski as a defensive specialist/libero. Juniors returning include Kaitlyn Long as a libero/defensive specialist and Rachel Stephenson on the outside.

Newcomers to the team are juniors Maddie Karwas and Kaitlyn Lipka on the right side, Abby Booth as a middle blocker and Casey Lipka as an outside hitter. Sophomores McKyla Brooks , a middle blocker, and Taylor Kaznowski, a setter, were brought up to the varsity.

Class AA champion Orchard Park also returns much of its team and looks to be tough. The Quakers already defeated defending state champion Eden at the St. Mary’s Tournament. Frontier will host the annual Falcons Invitational featuring a field of 24 teams on Sept. 22.

In Class D, North Collins is as young as its been in years with only two seniors. The Eagles will look to benefit from the experience gained this season. Head coach Dave Burgstahler said his key returners include senior setter Christine Blidy, junior middle Beth Kibler and freshman outside hitter Jasmine Filkov.

“This group will be together for a few years, so I’m hoping for big things to come,” he noted.

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