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State champ Eden gets used to a youthful girls volleyball team

AVOIDING THE BLOCK — Senior Lainy Pierce leads Eden, which is in search of a fifth straight state title. File photo by Ron Larson.
If a girls volleyball program at a smaller school like Eden wants to compete at a high level every year, Raiders’ head coach Stephen Pierce said he believes it will have to do so with contributions from younger players.

Even a powerhouse like Eden seldom has big senior classes anymore, so several younger athletes will continue to be asked to play large roles, in continuing the program’s string of success which, for the last four seasons, includes winning a state title.

This year’s senior class includes three players, after the team saw three graduate from the 2012 squad. But smaller senior classes are not changing the ultimate team goal. Eden already placed second at the St. Mary’s Tournament, was a quarterfinalist at its own tournament during the weekend – falling to eventual champion Mercy of Rochester in a hard-fought 30 – 24 set – and beat large school power Frontier.

“We’re doing really well, especially because we’re still young; we have two freshmen and a sophomore on the floor,” Pierce said. “It’s been very enjoyable to work with this group. They understand that it’s a young team’s goal to get better and then play at our best, moving into the end of the season and into the playoffs. We’re hoping to grab another state title.”

The driving force of the team remains a pair of veterans in seniors Lainy Pierce and Heather Holscher, who have the opportunity to become the first Eden volleyball players to become five-time state champions. Both played on Eden’s 2009 state title team as eighth graders.

Pierce, who has committed as a libero-defensive specialist to play at Penn State, where her sister Kendall plays, is back at setter, after acclimating herself to the position in 2012. She is also a vocal leader, according her uncle, Stephen Pierce. Holscher, who signed to play with Division II Daemen College, is one of the better outside hitters in Western New York, according to Pierce.

“They have the opportunity to become probably the only players in the state to ever win five titles,” said Pierce, the coach of the program that has won 10 state championships. “I know that’s a goal of theirs to achieve.”

Returning players in larger roles this season include the Ballou sisters, Kailey, a junior outside hitter whom Pierce called the most improved player on the team, and Meghan, a sophomore middle blocker who is also improving. Kailey Ballou made the all-tournament team at St. Mary’s. Freshman Samantha Burgio also returns as a right side, playing in the full rotation after seeing some time last season, while junior middle Brianna Tutuska is stepping into the starting lineup, as well.

Freshman Alyssa Durski has been adjusting to her new role as a libero, after playing outside in years prior. Classmate Molly Brier fractured her thumb, but looks to see some time as a setter, down the road. Senior Taylor Mitchell should also contribute, as a defensive specialist and server.

Also at the Eden tournament, Hamburg finished as a semifinalist and Frontier was ousted in the quarterfinals. Taylor Hite of Hamburg, Sydney Rojek of Frontier and Pierce were among those voted to the all-tournament team.

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