Thursday September 27, 2012 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Doug Horbachewski (left) and Connor Krolikowski go up for a block on Frontier’s Pat Quinlivan in Hamburg’s win. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
When Brian Carroll says his team is getting better each week of the season, he is not just looking to repeat a head coach’s cliche.
Hamburg has literally improved how well its fared in tournaments and divisional matches, while moving up the ranks of the Western New York large school poll, since the season-opening Clarence Tournament over Labor Day weekend.
Beginning the season ranked 10th, the Bulldogs were unable to qualify for the top bracket in Clarence, but since have started the ECIC Division III season 3-0, including beating sectional champion Frontier, and performed better in their past two tournaments, including winning a title at the Sweet Home Tournament over the weekend (Sept. 22).
The play of the Bulldogs has also moved them all the way up to third in the latest Western New York poll.
“We’ve grown an awful lot since the start of the season,” said Carroll, who also noted that a week after the Clarence Tournament on Sept. 1 his team advanced a round further at the competitive Eden Pan-Am Tournament. “Every week, we’ve gotten better and crossed a hurdle.”
Carroll considers his team to be young — after losing five regulars from last year’s lineup to graduation, but a number of his underclassmen did get to see time on the floor last year and are beginning to reap the benefits from it.
“We’ve got a lot of new kids in positions they haven’t played before, but we’re not rebuilding, we’re reloading,” Carroll said. “We had underclassmen consistency playing last year. It just took a little while for the kids to see they could be successful. When we played Frontier, the guys looked very comfortable in the lineup and they all played really well.”
As Section VI’s undisputed top team over the past two seasons, Frontier frustrated many fellow Western New York foes, cross-town rival Hamburg included. But that changed the first time the two met in 2012 as new division mates, with Hamburg moving up from ECIC II.
On Thursday (Sept. 20), Hamburg won in four games over a Frontier team building back up again after losing four all-Western New Yorkers from last season.
Tony Guzzetta, a libero the past two seasons turned setter this year, led the Bulldogs with 27 assists. Carroll said Guzzetta’s been getting assistance from the passing efficiency percentage of top passers Pat Stroh, Connor Krolikowski and Davd Suchan jumping from about 60 to 90 over the past few weeks. Guzzetta also brings plenty of smarts to the floor, having a 95 average in school.
Also in the match, Hamburg pulled away thanks to contributions from a number of hitters, including Ben Michaels, Trevor Vail, Zach Yerington, Krolikowski and Stroh. Carroll said all of those players are above six-feet tall and well-rounded with the capability to move from left to right or play in the middle if need be.
“Frontier was solid until about the 13 to 15 point mark but they had a hard time sustaining what they were successful at after that,” Carroll noted. “We pushed through and stayed focused a little longer. Every one of our hitters can take care of the ball.”
With Horbachewski and Michaels moving to the middle this season and Krolikowski being a standout on the outside among the overall depth of the hitters, Carroll believes it is difficult for oppositions to put a block on his team or focus on stopping just one or two players. If opponents try to stop a specific player, he said Guzzetta goes somewhere else with the ball.
It was certainly that way at the 40th annual Sweet Home Tournament, where Hamburg coasted through six games in pool play, before needing to come-from-behind in three games (15-25, 25-23, 15-13) to beat hot-streaking Williamsville East in the final. East had beaten Eden and Clarence to advance. Guzzetta and Krolikowski both made the all-tournament team.
Hamburg had beaten tough division foe Clarence both games in pool play after defeating its ECIC I counterpart 3-1 on Sept. 18.
Carroll was happy to get all 18 players on the team into a match at some point during the tournament and looked upon his team very positively for the way each and every one cheered for the other whether on the court or not.
“A key is that the guys really like each other,” Carroll said. “Some of the boys saw their playing time decreased because of other players stepping up but they’re still being positive and supportive of each other. They’re like a family.”
Hamburg finally lost an ECIC I match, falling in four (25-21, 25-23, 17-25, 27-29) to division front-runner Orchard Park on Sept. 24. Carroll noted that solid performances were turned in by hitters Ryan Dils, Horbachewski and Yerington, while the serve-receive of Stroh, Krolikowski, and Suchan was strong. Guzzetta distributed the ball well and Vail added three kills and two blocks.