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High School Boys Volleyball Preview: Lake Shore Eagles still team to beat in Division II

Billy Pinter and Lake Shore will once again look to get through teams like Hamburg in Section VI Division II. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

It took 16 years for Lake Shore to return a Section VI championship to the high school in the Town of Evans but can the Eagles stay on top in a loaded Division II?

In returning three starters and a few key role players from last season, Lake Shore looks like it could have what it takes. However, only two returning players are back in the same position as head coach John Coyle has done some shifting around to piece together the most competitive lineup possible.

While many of them were adjusting to their new spots on the court, the Eagles remained just about as impressive as they were last season in opening the season as semifinalist in the Clarence Tournament among a competitive Section VI field on Sept. 1.

“That was one of our best showings at that tournament in years,” said Coyle, whose team captured the Division II championship last year by beating Hamburg in an epic five-game match. “As the kids go along in the season, I see them improving. We’re a little ahead of where we originally wanted to be, so I hope we can build on that.”

Although the Eagles return with some swagger from last season, Coyle believes his players are focused on what needs to be done this year to have 2011 repeat itself. He likes his players’ level of self-motivation.

“I have high expectations for them because a lot of these guys are third-year varsity players, but I think they have just as high expectations for themselves,” said Coyle, last year’s Western New York Coach of the Year. “I don’t have to push hard. They like working at their games and don’t like to make mistakes.”

The high expectations come from the return of three-year varsity contributors Ryan Joslyn, Billy Pinter and Connor Govenettio. While Pinter will remain at setter, where he has become one of the best in Western New York, and Govennettio will be back on the outside, the hard-hitting Joslyn will move to the middle from the outside. Pinter was a First Team All-WNY selection and Joslyn, a second team honoree.

After seeing considerable time last year as a defensive specialist, fellow senior Clark Brueckl moves to a starting middle. Upperclassmen Dane Cala and Tyler Freeman will play on the outside. Both are normally liberos. Cala is in his second season with the varsity, while Freeman returns after missing much of last season with an injury.

Also expected to contribute this season are junior Brad Owens at libero and senior Cody Pulewski, a setter, who is working his way back from a broken wrist. The Eagles will count on its defense, passing and the continuity from a strong senior class of seven in hopes that it makes up for their lack of size. Joslyn is 6-foot-4, but the rest of the team is 6-foot-1 or smaller.
Ben Michaels (right) is returning for Section VI Division II finalists Hamburg. (photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Although Hamburg has moved up to ECIC I for the regular season, Lake Shore, the defending ECIC II champion, will have to deal with its rival come the postseason in Division II. On their way to an unbeaten division run last season, Lake Shore beat Hamburg twice but like in the sectional final, it was in five hard-fought games.

“Hamburg is well coached and seems to have size every year,” noted Coyle, whose team split with Hamburg in two games at Clarence.

Due to state classification numbers, Division II will again have the majority of the teams from Section VI. Twenty schools reside in Division II, while there are eight in D-I.

Last season, Hamburg again competed among the best in Division II but ended in heartbreaking fashion, holding a late lead in the final only to see it wither away. Hamburg head coach Bran Carroll expects his young team to regroup and with the type of work ethic it has shown so far, once again be a factor at season’s end.

“We have a good team that competes daily in practice and this will be a great benefit for this group of players down the road,” Carroll said.

Leading this group will be two-year starter Connor Krolikowski, a versatile 6-foot-4 senior, who Carroll said can play all three front row positions “He’s one of the most well-rounded players in WNY,” noted Carroll of his left-side hitter.

Senior Tony Guzzetta moves to the setter position after playing libero the last two years. In the middle will be much of that size Coyle spoke of with 6-foot-4 senior Ben Michaels and a pair of 6-foot-3 sophomores in Doug Horbachewski and Zach Yerington. Joining Krolikowski on the left side will be Patrick Stroh, a smooth passing and high jumping 6-foot-3 sophomore. Also seeing time on the outside will be Trevor Vail and David Suchan. Kody Omphalius should get an opportunity at right side, while Ryan Dils is competing for playing time at setter as only a freshman.

The Bulldogs are rounded out by Mitch Courtney, Kevin Eisenried, Ryan Filas, Chris Fuentes, Charlie Gordner, Mike Liberatore, John-Francis Orozco and Nick Yonkosky, all of whom will compete for the defensive specialist position.
Sophomore Jake Gleason is defending Section VI-champion Frontier’s only returning starter.

Hamburg will join in ECIC I the divisions’ champion and the Section VI Class A title holder the past two years, Frontier.

Despite losing four All-Western New York players, two of whom are now playing Division I college volleyball, and a fifth starter to graduation, Frontier head coach Bill Faust does not concede that his team is rebuilding. He doesn’t believe in using that term. “That’s an excuse to write off your team’s season,” he noted.

His team has already been competitive in starting the season at tournaments in Clarence and Eden. While the two-time defending champions lost at Clarence in the semifinals to St. Joe’s, which would then drop the final to Canisius, getting that far says a lot about the players who have been waiting in the wings. Although replacing setter Matt Taylor, outside hitters Drew Durni (Hawaii) and Nick Smalter (IPFW) and inside Tom Scheck is no easy task, this underclassman-driven team is taking the first steps to doing so.

Third-year sophomore starter Jake Gleason will switch from libero to setter, while senior captains Spencer Avery and Derek Hosken move into larger roles on the outside and in the middle, respectively. Faust will also look to a pair of younger brothers of the recent graduates in juniors Jeffrey Taylor at opposite and Dylan Durni at outside hitter. Junior middle Erik Hatten also steps into the starting lineup and has already garnered all-tournament honors in Clarence. Seniors Shawn Fischer and David Piniewski and junior Patrick Quinlivan will look to compete for playing time.

“The team has completely transformed from last year,” said Faust, who believes WNY boys volleyball is wide open this season, but Orchard Park remains the early favorite in Division I. “We’ll be filling some big shoes. They’re going to need a strong work ethic, but they really seem eager to learn.”

A competitive Division II field is only strengthened by Eden, which almost every year has a say in the postseason. Eden, which has won a sectional title 27 out of the last 35 seasons, surprisingly exited from last season’s playoffs in the quarterfinal round.

The team that looks to bounce back is young but in typical Raiders’ fashion also a hungry one that seems to be getting better even into just the first few weeks of the season. Mixing in with two senior starters this year will be four sophomores and a freshman.

“The teams we’ve run into right now are a little bigger and older but I like where we’re going,” said Eden head coach Robert Pierce, who noted that his team was impressive at times opening the season in the Clarence Tournament, before going toe-to-toe with McQuaid in the quarterfinals of the Eden Pan-Am Tournament on Sept. 8.

Though Pierce points to the sophomores and freshmen as the players that will do the damage for Eden down the road, he’s got two inspirational senior leaders for them to learn from. Ryan Vondell returns to his starting spot as a middle, while Dakota Sheffield, who couldn’t even walk at one point last year after falling off a cliff in an accident, has worked his way into the setter spot.

At 6-foot-2 and a wrestler, Vondell will give the team some size and provide much of the strength. Pierce also said Vondell is a positive role model who is accepting of all of his teammates regardless of age. Sheffield, who missed most of the last school year, is a story all on his own. An aggressive attitude has helped Sheffield first get back on his feet and then on to the court.

“I can’t even believe that he’s able to play after what happened to him and he’s doing it at a high level,” Pierce said. “What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in his competitiveness.”

Hayden Herc, a 6-foot-4 sophomore middle, is turning into the real deal after playing for the national team in Des Moines, Iowa in the offseason. Also returning to a starting role is freshman Declan Pierce, the son of the coach who’s also emerging as a force in Western New York.

Joining Pierce on the outside will be hard-hitting sophomore Brad Meyer, The elder Pierce also expects contributions from feisty sophomore Cole Overhoff and Jake Shlegel, who will compete for time at setter. Senior Jimmy Ehrig is also expected to see some time in the middle. The team is rounded out by juniors Ryan Gajewski and exchange student Jacob Maritti.

“Once we get into the league season, we’ll contend and we should be in the mix during the postseason,” said Pierce, whose team plays in ECIC III. “What I see from us in progression is a really good sign.”

It may have only been winning a game off Canisius, but that feat at the Clarence Tournament tells the tale of how far St. Francis has come as a program, even as it fields another team that will depend on the contributions of youngsters.

The Red Raiders split two games in tournament pool play with the team that has ruled the Monsignor Martin for the past 12 seasons. It’s the same Canisius program that St. Francis head coach Andy Lanigan has watched beat his team in the MMAA final last season and in 2008. Lanigan believes it may have been an early-season defining moment for his team, which finished the tournament as a quarterfinalists.

“It’s a real confidence boost,” said Lanigan, whose team went on to sweep East Aurora in its first non-league match. “A win over Canisius is the first time that’s happened in many years. It opened their eyes and made them believe that we can play with anybody.”

The Red Raiders return three regulars from last year’s rotation in senior Taylor Walber and Alex Warthling and junior Tom Duskiewicz. Walber will take over the offensive load on the outside for graduated Brett Cawthorn, which is now playing at D’Youville, while Duskiewicz, a Southtowns Volleyball Club player, who enjoyed a breakout season last year, will secure the middle. Warthling, a three-year captain with the most experience on this team, will take on the role of libero.

Junior Jack Moretti will be slotted into the setter spot, while freshmen Nick Bachev and Jake Kaempf will be asked to step right in as a middle and defensive specialist, respectively.

While this team may not be as skilled as last seasons, Lanigan sees in this group a will to win and more attention to detail.

“There is more of a team atmosphere,” Lanigan said. “We’re playing better team defense and making more hustle plays. They realize that they can’t rely on big guy as individuals. They’ll have to rely on each other.”

The league does not make it any easier on St. Francis. Already with Canisius to face, St. Joe’s is also loaded with talent. The two are the top ranked teams in WNY. The Red Raiders are ranked eighth. “It makes things a little tougher but theses guys already know that things don’t come easy for us,” Lanigan said.

Among home matches of note are against Frontier on Friday, Sept. 14, St. Joe’s on Sept. 20 during Homecoming, and Canisius on Oct. 2, which will be St. Francis’ annual Blackout Night, when fans are asked to root on their home team by wearing all black. Also, St. Francis will host the MMAA championship match on Nov. 2.
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