A shorter season. No states or regionals. No switching sides during matches. Wearing of masks. Sanitizing the gym before and after matches. Waving goodbye has replaced handshakes. The landscape of varsity volleyball has drastically changed, but all that matters is kids are on the court.
Still, action in the Niagara Frontier League is as intense as ever.
With no regional or state tournament, the sectional title is what teams are playing for. But unlike last year’s when every team goes to the post season party regardless of record this year only the top eight teams in each class qualify for the sectional tourney.
Grand Island: 4-0
The Vikings are banking on a talented roster to help them in the chase for the league and sectional titles.
Senior captains Rose Meaney (setter), and outside hitters Hannah Pyc and Grace Carey have been a big part of GI opening with a four game winning streak.
John Head will be serving as interim coach while Amy Boutet is on maternity leave.
Head said that the coaches are thrilled that all of the girls, especially the seniors, can have a season.
“For them to actually to actually have a chance to go out playing, we’re grateful for that opportunity,” Head said.
Sophomore libero Natalyn Cordero is fearless on the floor.
Niagara Wheatfield: 3-0
The expectation to win is engrained in the Falcons from day one.
They come into the season riding a wave of three straight NFL titles. In the fall of 2019, NW fell in the sectional semifinals. The year before that they were state runners-up.
The Falcons are led by captains Emily Brochey (setter) and Elanna Lysiak (middle), who are seniors, and junior Kelsey Tylec at outside hitter.
“We always set a high expectation for ourselves every year and we work super hard,” Kelsey Tylec said. “And this year more than ever we’re excited just because we get the chance to play again.”
The Falcons deep line-up also feature sophomore Sasha Zayatz (libero), senior Emma Halleen (OH), freshman Julia Kwitchoff (OH), junior Emily Quider (right) and seventh grader Lindsay Tylec (setter).
Lockport: 3-1, 2-1
The Lions will look to build off a strong start that includes league wins over Kenmore West and Niagara Falls.
Seniors Ashlynn Johnson (setter) and Jailyn Gillon (libero) are setting the time. While sophomore right side, Niaya Vohland has also been impressive.
Kenmore East: 4-0, 3-0
The Lady Bulldogs are serving notice they are no longer to be thought of as a pushover. They might not win every match, but win or lose they will battle you to the very last point.
Senior captain Gabrielle Sordetto said there is a sense of compete within the ranks where girls expect to win.
“The demand for us winning is definitely a lot higher. We’re working a lot harder this year,” Sordetto said. “And we just want to win.”
Coach Julie Fischer said she has been cultivating a winning attitude with the core seniors since she was coaching them on JV.
In the eyes of Fischer and her veterans, this is their year.
“We want to win this season just like we did four years ago (on JV). This is our goal,” Fischer said.
Junior Jessica Nuebert (libero), senior captain Hailee Puzzella (OH) and setter Sydney Cerkiewicz have also been key to strong start.
The Bulldogs have league wins over Lew-Port, CSAT and NT, as well as a non-leaguer over Mount St. Mary’s.
The Lancers opened with a no doubt 3-0 win over CSAT.
They are led by senior captains Meghan Baio (outside hitter) and Adelaide Buth (middle).
North Tonawanda: 1-2
The LadyJacks come in with a mix of some young talent and veterans that should help be a tough team to face.
Seniors Emily McNeill (outside hitter) Paige Book (middle), Shay Woodard (middle) and Lauren Gondek will lead the way. Freshman Kyler Shiesley will also be a threat at outside hitter.
“Honestly, I think they just really trust each other,” coach Katie Harrington said.
Junior Brianna Starr is another player to watch as she brings a ton of energy to the floor and can play multiple positions.
Niagara Falls: 0-3
The Wolverines dropped games to Niagara Wheatfield and Lockport to open the season.
They have six seniors in the line-up.
Kenmore West: 1-3
This season is an interesting one for the Blue Devils who have eight seniors on their 17-girl roster.
Head coach Brittany Lis is trying to strike that balance of making this year fun for the seniors and teachable for the underclassmen. All while trying to snag as many wins as possible.
“For a lot of these girls they’ve been through a lot of different obstacles in the off season and through the past year,” Lis said. “So I’ve mainly told my seniors this year is for you guys. We’re gonna make the best of it. It’s yours for the taking. I told the girls its gonna be a fun season where we’re gonna build our team unity. I want these seniors to leave a legacy with the younger players. It’s really all about them. Having fun, being a team and making the best out of this year.”
Sophmores Molly Frothingham (setter) and Olivia Foglia-Leffler (libero) are the foundation for the future.
Rachel Greenwood (middle), Madsion Dion and Madison Beuchat are seniors who are seeing lots of playing time early on.
West picked up its first W when they beat Niagara Falls.
Volleyball seems to be the one sport the Eagles continue to struggle in since joining the NFL.
With just nine players on the roster the Eagles are not only low in numbers they don’t have the benefit of club players like the rest of the league.
Naitza Rodriguez is the lone senior.
Feature Image/Photo Credit Larry Austin