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Niagara-Wheatfield downed in state finals

by yarger
Mon, Nov 19th 2018 01:00 pm
The Niagara-Wheatfield Lady Falcons pose for one last photo following its 3-2 defeat in the state finals Sunday. (Photos by David Yarger)
The Niagara-Wheatfield Lady Falcons pose for one last photo following its 3-2 defeat in the state finals Sunday. (Photos by David Yarger)
Lady Falcons' historic season comes up just short; Team welcomed home by community
By David Yarger
Tribune Editor
The Niagara-Wheatfield Lady Falcons have had success all season. From being unbeaten in the regular season to Niagara Frontier League champions to Section VI champions - nothing could go wrong for the team.
On Sunday, at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, the girls looked to add to their season resume: New York state champions. With all good things, though, they come to an end.
The Lady Falcons' historic season struck midnight Sunday, as the team was defeated, 3-2, by Wantagh.
Wantagh defeated N-W twice on Saturday in pool play. In the finals, the Lady Falcons were just one point away from clinching a state title, twice. 
The lead shifted 15 times in the first set, but the Lady Falcons escaped with a 25-23 win.
Wantagh came back in the second set, though. With N-W up, 16-9, the Warriors clawed back to make it 16-15. Wantagh gained the lead at 20-19 and never looked back, to win 25-22.
The third set was dominated by the Lady Falcons, who held a 16-8 lead at one point. This time, unlike the last set, N-W closed out the Warriors, 25-20.
Up 2-1, coach Brandi Cochran admitted to some worries, but also excitement.
"(I was) nervous, because I knew it wasn't going to be that easy, and that's kind of how I felt this whole time in the sectional and playoff season. When we were rolling, I was like 'Wait a minute, this is not how it's supposed to be. We're not supposed to be killing teams.' I knew that the team across from us was going to be so solid, I knew it wasn't going to be over. ... So, yeah, I was nervous, but I also had a little bit of hope like 'can we do this in four?' "
The Lady Falcons were down 19-14 midway through the fourth set. A 9-4 N-W run tied things up at 23, putting the Lady Falcons two points away from a state title. After going back-and-forth for two points, Wantagh closed the set with two consecutive points, clinching set four, 26-24.
The fifth and final set was exactly the way any tournament director would want a championship to end.
Wantagh carried momentum early, holding a lead as great as 19-13. Just like set four, the Lady Falcons stormed back.
N-W scored the next seven of eight points to tie the set at 20. Up 26-25, the Lady Falcons had a chance to clinch its first state title in history, but Wantagh just would not allow it. The Warriors would score the next three points and win the 2018 New York State Class A Girls Volleyball Championship, 28-26.
The mood following the game - devastation. After fighting back in consecutive sets, players were visibly upset to see their efforts come up short.
Amidst the tears of her players, Cochran said the team should be proud of themselves for getting to the last day of season.
"I told them not to cry. It's not like they came out and lost in three and that was it. They fought and the last 10 points right there should make them so proud. I told them that they needed to stay proud. They needed to know that even though it didn't come on our side this time, they did everything they could to try and make it come out on our side.
"I can not say enough about this group. They are one of the most amazing groups I've ever coached. I told them this is one of the most memorable seasons I'll ever have as a coach or a player, and I played a lot of volleyball in my day. So, the fact that I can say that I will never forget this team, this season, is definitely a big deal," Cochran said.
Cochran added that it was a pleasure to have 16 "upstanding" girls on her team and called them "the whole package."
The loss is tough for the Lady Falcons, as the team will endure the loss of nine seniors - Jenna Sonnenberg, Le'Gary Jackson, Katelyn Kostiw, Jordan Graber, Mackenzie Franks, Danielle Brochey, Tiara Borzillire, Kierston Klidonas and Brianna Walker.
Cochran gave credit to the seniors and how far they came, especially with only one of the seniors (Sonnenberg) slated to play volleyball in college.
"For a state runner-up team, having only really one girl, right now, fully committed to play volleyball, that's pretty impressive, because a lot of these teams you look and they're either young sophomores that are probably already signed somewhere or seniors that know they're playing volleyball. Some of my girls have potential to play volleyball at the next level, and I don't know if that's maybe their choice, so I think they just knew after this weekend, that was it - by their choice, obviously. ... We are going to miss them all," Cochran said.
Cochran admitted, it will likely take time for the program to find replacements for the seniors, but the team will figure it out.
"This team is five years in the making. I've had Jenna since eighth grade, probably could've had her since seventh. I was looking at her in fourth grade. If she was allowed to play JV and varsity at that age, I would've done it. Same thing with the Mackenzie's and the Danielle's and the Katie's - they were my sole group of young girls that took time outside of school to get better, and that's why they're here," Cochran said.
Following the loss, Sonnenberg and Brochey were announced as All-Tournament honorees.
The season is quite possibly the greatest in Niagara-Wheatfield history, and Cochran acknowledged her girls are leaving behind a big legacy.
"This group pretty much left behind one of the greatest seasons that Niagara-Wheatfield will ever see," Cochran said. "When I retire ... I don't think we're ever gonna top this. ... They've really left such a hard pair of shoes to fill. They left back the lesson that if you work hard - and just because you're athletic doesn't mean you're going to take it, because there are a lot of athletic teams back in Section VI that are not here. So, you need to have the athleticism, you need to have the smarts, you need to have the work ethic and you need to have the team bond that this team had to get this far."
As coach of the historic season, Cochran admitted it felt great, but she continued to give credit to her hard-working group.
"I can't really give myself any credit. They did it all. I was just there to kind of keep things calm and put out a rotation and hope that it worked. It did, for a while, tonight it did not, unfortunately, but they should be so proud and I'm so proud of them," Cochran said.
Despite being down and facing a long bus ride home from Glens Falls, the community came through for the team.
As the team approached closer to home, the Lady Falcons were given a fire truck escort from various companies around the Wheatfield area from Reservoir Park back to the school. As the team bus pulled back into Niagara-Wheatfield, in cold temperature and some light rain, the team was greeted by a plethora of students, family, and community members who were there to welcome them back home and appreciate the effort they put forth in the state tournament.
The gathering was just another way of the Wheatfield community picking each other up when one is down. It was also a big surprise to the team, who had no idea the welcoming would take place. Players hugged and cried happy tears with many, which helped make a tough day a little bit better. Later on, majority of the team took to social media to express their gratitude for the Niagara-Wheatfield students and community, which showed how much of a family the school at 2292 Saunders Settlement Road really is.
Photos from the finals, as well as the welcome home gathering:
Students who gathered in the cold and rain Sunday night at Niagara-Wheatfield High School

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