After first-set loss, Falcons take next three
By David Yarger
Last Saturday, the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons girls volleyball team notched the program's first-ever Section VI title. On Friday night, at Webster-Thomas High School, the girls etched another first into its history.
The Falcons defeated the Irondequoit Eagles, 3-1, in the Far West Regional crossover matchup. The victory sends the girls to the New York State Tournament in Glens Falls.
Falcons coach Brandi Cochran said, "I'm so excited for them. They've worked so hard all year. I know their goal was, obviously, win the league, then win the section, then we win this. Just to see the state tournament - I cannot even tell you how awesome I feel for them. It's amazing."
Senior captain, and team member since eighth grade, Jenna Sonnenberg was ready to jump out of her shoes at the sound of clinching a spot in the state tournament. Sonnenberg, after the sectional title win, said she believed the team could keep its hot streak going into states. That proved true Friday night.
"I cannot even explain the feeling," Sonnenberg said. "I literally just want to jump. I'm so excited. I'm so pumped. This is insane. ... At our school, no other fall sport is going on right now, like it's just us. Our school's rooting for us and we're really pushing hard and I think we really have a good shot. If we focus on our side, whatever comes against us doesn't matter. ... I think if we play our best, we can win states."
The road to states was no easy task for the Falcons, as Irondequoit came out swinging.
With the score at 15-14, in favor of the Eagles, and N-W creeping closer, Irondequoit closed the set on a 10-3 run to win, 25-17, and take an early, 1-0, lead in sets.
The first set, Cochran admitted, was one of the worse the team had played, and Irondequoit came out and gave the Falcons a little punch in the mouth.
"The first game, we were getting the kinks out," Cochran said. "They served tough, they were pounding the ball and we just weren't ready for any of it."
The game was a progression for the Falcons, as each set seemed to get better than the previous.
Set No. 2 was a back-and-forth battle, with the leading swapping sides 11 times.
Irondequoit called timeout down 24-22 and rallied back to tie it at 24. That's all the Eagles would get, though, as the Falcons scored the next two to win the set and tie the match back up, 1-1.
The next two sets were much like the Falcons team that didn't lose a set during regular season play.
With the Eagles creeping closer, 21-17, Cochran called a timeout, and following the break, the Falcons scored three straight points, then closed it out, 25-18, after an Irondequoit point.
Up 2-1 heading into the fourth set, the Falcons followed up a good set with one that might've been its most dominant all season.
Sonnenberg reeled off nine straight serves to give the Falcons a 9-0 lead, before the Eagles' first point.
As the set went on, the Falcons could feel states approaching, while the Eagles were struggling. Irondequoit got as close as 10-6, but the Falcons ended up winning the set by 11, 25-14.
As the final spike hit the floor, the girls stormed the court and dogpiled on top of each other in excitement.
For the Falcons, Sonnenberg led the way with 26 digs and two aces; LeGary Jackson added eight blocks and five kills; and Katelyn Kostiw notched nine kills and six block assists.
Cochran gave credit to the Falcons' defense for the bounce back win in set two, and said it kept rolling from there.
"When our defense picks up, it's very hard to get in our head after that. So, it was a combination of minimizing errors, serving tough and being confident helped us out for sure," Cochran said.
Sonnenberg added that she brought everyone aside after the first set and said, "Guy's, this is our one shot. We don't get another shot at this. It's do or die."
Sonnenberg said, once good plays started falling the Falcons' way, it changed the course of the game.
Cochran also mentioned the progression of the team from set to set.
"It's always tough when you're traveling a few hours. We've been traveling since 1 (p.m.). ... We tried to make it a day where they didn't have to sit, wrapped in bus and then walk on the court," Cochran said. "I knew the jitters and just being out of our routine was gonna play a factor in the first set. That team is good. A lot of their players stepped up the whole match, and we just had to find ways to really stop them and then just play our game."
After serving the first nine points for the Falcons in the fourth set, Sonnenberg said it was huge for her and the team to start the set strong.
"Just being a senior, I just want to do my best every time, and being able to contribute whatever I can to our team. For that being my contribution to the game, it felt amazing," Sonnenberg said.
As the state tournament approaches, Cochran, who won the state tournament three times as a member of the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks, said she can't wait for her team to see the atmosphere.
"It's not even about winning or losing, I just wanted them to feel what it was like to go to states. ... These girls have been so close to the state championship, that now they get to see it. Do we have a chance? I don't know. I don't really know anything about the rest of the state, I'm sure that volleyball is just as strong, if not, stronger. So, we're gonna have to play tough. But just for them, this group, just to see it, I could not have asked for anything better. It's amazing," Cochran said.
The Falcons are currently slated to play at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 against an opponent to be determined. The state finals take place at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
From left, the Niagara-Wheatfield girls volleyball captains, Danielle Brochey, Mackenzie Franks, Katelyn Kostiw and Jenna Sonnenberg receive the Far West Regional plaque.