Niagara-Wheatfield wins first two sets, loses next two, seals title in fifth
By David Yarger
That was the first gasp out of Niagara-Wheatfield girls volleyball coach Brandi Cochran after her team defeated Williamsville South in the Class A Sectional Finals, 3-2.
The win is the Falcons' first girls volleyball sectional title in program history and the victory also gives the team revenge after its 3-1 loss in the finals, last season.
The girls started off hot in the first two sets, and for a while it looked like it would be, once again this season, another clean sweep.
After a 25-16 first set victory, the girls got down early, 6-4, in the second set. Cochran called a timeout after the Billies' sixth point, and from there, the Falcons took control. A 13-5 run for the Falcons gave it a 17-11 lead. The Billies scored the next three points, but the Falcons were able to score the final eight points and win 25-17.
With a title in clear sight for the Falcons, Williamsville South seemed down and out. This was not the case, though.
Wheatfield got up early in the third set, 11-5, and there the Billies opted to call timeout. The timeout was a gamechanger.
The Billies embarked on a 17-4 run to take a 22-15 lead. After a late push from the Falcons, the Billies closed the third set the victors, 25-22.
In the fourth set, all momentum was in the Billies' favor. South got off to a 16-8 lead, and, eventually, tied the series at two apiece, 25-17.
Cochran, as well as captains Jenna Sonnenberg, Katelyn Kostiw, Danielle Brochey and Mackenzie Franks, admitted, when South came back to tie it, nightmares from last year's finals defeat were front and center in their minds.
Despite the thoughts, the Falcons came out with new energy in the final set.
Brochey, who had spells of up and down play during the game, powered the Falcons home to victory. With the score tied, 8-8, Brochey's spike landed on the ground and gave N-W the lead for good.
The girls went on a 16-6 run to close the door, with the match ending on Kostiw spike. As Kostiw's spike hit the hardwood, the Falcons (and some fans) ran onto the court to celebrate the historic win. N-W won the final set, 25-14.
Of the win, Cochran and the quartet of captains were blown away with emotion.
Cochran said, "I'm just so happy for the girls. I wanted this so bad for them and they fought so hard all year. And it was a little nerve wrecking, because they've always won in three (sets), and I knew this South team is such a strong team. I didn't think we would win in three. Early on, it looked like we might have, but I had a feeling they would come back. They're a good team. My team, we just found a way to stick it out and I'm just so proud, so happy for them."
Sonnenberg added, "It feels amazing. I can't even explain how proud I am of everyone. We worked so hard and we knew going in we're going to do it - it's do or die at this point - and that's what we really stressed those last few points."
Franks replied, "I think after last year's loss, our goal the whole season was to get back here and get revenge. So when we got here, that's all we wanted to do and we just kept pushing for it. I'm proud of all of us."
Brochey remarked, "I think that's the greatest feeling I've ever had in my whole life. Just to know we were able to push through five sets and get it done. And even (to) beat them by as much as we did in that last set, because we just pushed through and we didn't give up."
Kostiw said, "I think it was just an amazing feeling, especially after last year losing, it definitely helped us push to do better and want it even more."
Cochran and the captains said they were able to take a lot from last year's loss and use it going into this year's finals.
"I commented on it when were in the fourth game, I said, 'You know what guys, you are better than last year.' I mean our team last year was special ... but we were even further than last year when we were in the fifth game. We didn't even make it to the fifth game last year," Cochran said.
Sonnenberg's comment was in regard to the setting at Daemen College, which is a smaller and louder environment than most teams are used to.
"Last year, we learned what it's like to play in a very loud and intense atmosphere. When we walked in, you could tell a lot of people were very nervous. Coming in here with that experience, most of us had already played in this gym and we were able to relax as soon as we stepped on the court," Sonnenberg said.
Brochey agreed with Sonnenberg about teammates coming in with nerves, but she kept stressing to everybody: "calm down."
With nine seniors on her team, including Sonnenberg, Brochey, LeGary Jackson, Kostiw, Jordan Graber, Franks, Tiara Borzillire, Kiersten Klidonas and Brianna Walker, Cochran was excited that her seniors finally got the victory in the sectional finals.
"Since eighth-, ninth-grade they've been playing and they've been working hard and they've been playing in the offseason. I think they knew this was the year, and it wasn't going to be easy ... but they wanted it and we got it," Cochran said,
Early in the season, Cochran wouldn't say if it was sectionals or bust for the team after reaching the title last year. Instead, Cochran took each match one at a time and she was pleased to see another small goal accomplished. She also called herself a "very superstitious person," and tries not to think too far into future results.
As far as continuing the season, Kostiw, Brochey, Franks and Sonnenberg all agreed they don't want the season to end, and Sonnenberg even added she could see a run to state in the team's future.
To do so, the Falcons will play Section V Class A champion Irondequoit. The match begins at 6 p.m. Friday at a close to home venue for Irondequoit - Webster Thomas High School.
The four captains for the Niagara-Wheatfield girls volleyball team. From left, Jenna Sonnenberg, Danielle Brochey, Katelyn Kostiw and Mackenzie Franks.