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High School Girls Volleyball: State champs Eden saves its best for last

Eden girls volleyball’s state championship winning team includes Megan McCarthy, Lydia Baake, Jackie Bonczar, Lainy Pierce, Heather Holscher, Taylor Mitchell, Kailee Ballou, Bree Tutuska, Meghan Ballou, Sam Burgio, Molly Brier and Alyssa Durski and is coached by Stephen Pierce with assistant Johanna Funke.

Program wins fourth straight, 10th overall

Although in each of the past four seasons Eden teams have been built differently, all of them share one thing in common ­— they’ve saved their best performance for their last match.

That identical trait has helped make state champions out of all four.

Eden continued its remarkable run of state titles, winning its fourth straight and increasing the state record in the sport to 10 overall by finishing off Voorheesville of Section II in a three-game sweep, 25-19, 25-21, 25-17, on Sunday (Nov. 18) in Glens Falls.

The Raiders would need that late-season fortitude as it met back up in the final with the lone team of the three others to take a game off of them in pool play.

Eden finished 5-1 in pool play but lost its only game of the entire playoffs to an opportunistic and defensive-minded Voorheesville. The team split a pair of games on the tournament’s first day, Saturday (Nov. 17).

But in the final, Eden secured its block, at times using a three-player alignment to stop its opponent’s strongest hitters, and got back to its dominant service game, which yielded aces and Voorheesville miscues.

“The girls sensed that if we took care of business, we could beat that team if we met again,” said Eden head coach Stephen Pierce, who watched his young group truly come of age in the final. “I have hardly any complaints about how our girls played in the final. They were very solid.”

The Raiders had stumbled the day prior as Voorheesville played ball control against them using a “human back board type defense,” which makes it difficult for the ball to hit the floor. Voorheesville also served very well and had a good setter, Pierce said.

“They sent balls back until we made mistakes and we couldn’t find the floor,” Pierce said. “It was a hiccup for us; one of those games where the wheels come off.”
Pictured above top, junior standout Lainy Pierce earned Tournament Most Valuable Player as Eden won the state title on Sunday (Nov. 18) in Glens Falls.

In the final, tournament Most Valuable Player Lainy Pierce, the coach’s niece, put in her usual stellar all-around performance, finishing with 10 kills, three blocks and two aces.

Fellow junior Heather Holscher, who’s evolved into the team’s leader on offense, knocked down 17 kills in a solid hitting and serving performance which helped earn her all-tournament honors.

The two, along with seniors Megan McCarthy, Lydia Baake and Jackie Bonczar have now been part of all four state-title winning teams.

“It’s always a great experience to go down there (for states) and as a senior, you fight that much harder to win one last championship,” Baake said. “It’s always a fight but it goes to show how hard work pays off.”

Eden’s biggest hurdle in the championship match was having to fight back from a 15-9 deficit in Game Two. That’s when junior Taylor Mitchell stepped to the service line and scored six straight points to even the match.

Also playing a pivotal role was Bonczar, the team’s libero, who played through a taped up sprained ankle she suffered just three day earlier.

“Game Two proved that an Eden team can always come back when we’re down,” Baake said. “We felt the pressure but we knew in the back of our minds that we could do it.”

Though the team ranged from ages 13 to 18, the youngsters seemed to take their cue from the veteran players and pulled through during difficult games on the biggest of stages.

“Especially with us being so young, I’m proud that the younger girls stepped up and knew how bad we wanted it as seniors,” McCarthy said. “In my first year, I know I didn’t understand just how exciting this was for the seniors.”

Having graduated three integral starters, one each at outside hitter, setter and libero, there were holes to fill this year and some of them were occupied by freshmen and eighth graders, but still Eden was able to form an indisputable chemistry.

“For a real young team, we got along real well,” Baake said. “And for some of these young girls, they seemed so sure of themselves and positive, just like one of us (veteran players).”

Even an Eden team that has been there so often can still feel the pressure of expectations.

McCarthy said nerves were prevalent at the beginning of the year and into the season but by the final match, the Raiders finished what has become an annual routine by hoisting the championship trophy as the last team standing.

And for the most part, they did it in very dominant fashion.

Also celebrating the championship were team members, sophomores Kailee Ballou and Bree Tutuska, freshman Meghan Ballou and eighth graders Sam Burgio, Molly Brier and Alyssa Durski.

“We had our doubts,” said McCarthy pointing to falling short in a number of tournament matches throughout the regular season. “We lost a lot of skilled players but with dedication we pulled through. In the playoffs, we beat every team in three.”

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