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High School Girls Volleyball: Road Raiders look to take another step toward repeating as state champs

The Eden girls volleyball team won a 14th straight Section VI title, beating Falconer in a three-game sweep on Nov. 7 at Sweet Home.

Eden to play Saturday (Nov. 10) in Super Regional in Syracuse

Eden is well aware of the extensive road it takes to get to a state championship, but never have the Raiders been this busy and traveled so much during a run deep into the playoffs.

Since playing a final home game on Oct. 31 in the Class C quarterfinals, the three-time defending state champions have played four times in nine days, the last three matches on the road, with one more slated for tomorrow (Nov. 10) in the Syracuse-area. And a win in Saturday’s match three hours away would only secure a berth into the four-team state tournament the next weekend (Nov. 17-18) in the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Needless to say, the Raiders have racked up some major mileage lately on their bus. The Southtown’s squad went all the way up to No. 2 Wilson in Niagara County for the semifinals on Nov. 1, traveled to Sweet Home for the Class C final against Falconer on Nov. 7 and then the next night was at Genesee Community College in Batavia for the Far West Regional against Section V champion Waterloo.

The added game tomorrow against Section III champion Cazenovia starting 1 p.m. at Jamesville-DeWitt is the result of the expansion of girls volleyball during the fall season around the state. Now that all 11 sections of New York are represented in the championships, instead of eight, the state is taking turns each season with which regional winners play the extra game. This year, it was the turn of the winner of the Section VI vs. V match.

The fact that the Raiders keep making these roads trips means they keep winning, which makes the travel a little more welcome. And it hasn’t always been under the easiest of circumstances.

“We’ve been on the road since after the quarterfinals,” Eden head coach Stephen Pierce said. “The three-hour drive to Syracuse is going to be tough but the girls have handled being on the road well and played with big crowds rooting against us. There was a full crowd at Wilson ready to rock and roll, and our girls started quick and took them out of it. Falconer’s fans traveled well and we played in Section V, too, so it’s nice to see the girls didn’t get rattled. It’s a good sign.”

Good thing Eden is playing some of its best volleyball and made quick work of its opponents. This may not have been a typical regular season filled with tournament titles ­— although they did win ECIC Division IV for a 21st straight season with a 12-0 mark, but the Raiders now feel they are peaking.

Starting in the pre-quarterfinals, the Raiders have dispatched of all five playoff opponents in three game sweeps. In back-to-back nights, they took an hour to beat Falconer, 25-11,25-13, 25-15, and then defeated Section V champion Waterloo just as easy, 25-10, 25-11, 25-13. It was the 14th consecutive sectional crown for a program that has won a New York-record nine state titles.

“We’re playing some of our best volleyball,” Pierce said. “We’ve taken care of some of our inexperience issues and have been better with that. Since this has been one of the longest runs to states we’ve ever had, it’s been a battle of attrition.”

The Raiders have relied on some of their most experienced players through the playoffs. Junior Heather Holscher combined for 31 kills in the sectional final and Far West Regional and versatile junior Lainy Pierce, who can play on the outside or set, notched eight kills against Waterloo and led a dominant serving effort at Sweet Home with five aces.

Senior Megan McCarthy has been a constant impact player for Eden as a middle blocker, hitter and server. Senior defensive specialist Jackie Bonczar recorded nine digs in the Far West match and sixth-year varsity senior Lydia Baake notched 22 assists in the sectional final.

Coach Pierce also credited youngsters, Sam Burgio, an eighth grade outside hitter, and Meghan Ballou, a freshman middle blocker, for stepping up into large roles. Ballou has also become one of the top servers, while Burgio has developed into a big part of the attack.

On a young team with only the three seniors, also contributing are junior outside hitter Taylor Mitchell (two aces against Waterloo), sophomore middle blocker Bree Tutuska, sophomore defensive specialist and setter Kailee Ballou and eighth graders Molly Brier (setter) and Alyssa Durski (outside).

While Pierce is usually an aficionado on teams from around the state, he’s looking at one opponent at a time during this playoff run, especially with such a busy schedule. He said if the team wins tomorrow, he’ll look further into what Eden may be facing.

“If we advance then I’ll have time to look into the teams at the state tournament,” Pierce said. “Usually, you see two or three of the teams from year’s past come back. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case again this year.”


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