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Niagara-Wheatfield girls volleyball falls short of 3 straight sectional finals appearances
By David Yarger
For the last two years, the Niagara-Wheatfield Lady Falcons volleyball team had appeared in the Section VI Class A finals. Vying for a third straight visit Tuesday night, the team fell short on the court versus the Hamburg Bulldogs, 3-1.
For the Lady Falcons, the matchup started how they’d like with a win in the first set. Hamburg didn’t make life easy, though, for the defending state finals runner ups.
The Bulldogs got off to a 3-0 lead before N-W roared back to take a 5-3 lead. The first set was tied 12 times, but down 21-19, the Lady Falcons embarked on a 6-1 run to win and take a 1-0 lead. Elanna Lysiak highlighted the 6-1 run with two kills.
The second set was back and forth once again. The set was tied 10 times, and as Hamburg took a 19-16 lead, it seemed as if the Bulldogs would begin to pull ahead. That was not the case, though, as the Falcons stormed back to tie it at 19. The Bulldogs eventually closed the second set, winning 25-22.
In the third set, the Bulldogs began to find holes in the Wheatfield defense.
The set began just like the first two, but Hamburg took a 10-9 advantage and never gave it up. Wheatfield got the score to 20-18 and made things close, but the Bulldogs pulled away slightly, 25-23, to take a 2-1 lead.
In the fourth and final set of the night, Hamburg dominated. The Bulldogs led by as much as nine, 14-5, before winning 25-16 to advance to the Section VI Class A finals.
The Falcons were looking to repeat as Class A champs, but fell short with its young team. Following the loss, coach Brandi Cochran said it’s a different feeling for some of the players who were used to going further.
“It’s tough, because for the girls that have been on the team for a few years, they’re used to going to the finals. Win or lose in the finals, they wanted a chance,” Cochran said. “It’s tough. We started with a whole new team this year, different dynamics, so I had to go in knowing it wasn’t going to be easy, and it wasn’t.
"I was disappointed in our last set. We fought in the first three, then just kind of backed off and let them take it, so that’s disappointing, but overall, I’m proud of my girls. They showed they can play with these tough teams, it just didn’t work out for us tonight.”
Hamburg coach John Crangle said he was thrilled to get back to the finals with a possibility to win the program’s first title since 2012.
“(It) feels fantastic, absolutely. We played a very good team. We knew it was going to be a good team – the defending Section VI champs, great record during the regular season – they were confident, and we just had to believe in what we were doing. … After we took our first game, we were able to settle in a little bit,” Crangle said.
The Bulldogs coach added that, following the 25-23 third set win, the team was able to use all its momentum in the fourth set to ice the match.
Following the first set, things changed for both squads.
Regarding the aftermath following the Falcons set one win, Cochran said, “We gotta give credit to Hamburg. They stepped up their game, they found holes, they stepped up their offense. … I was more worried about their block, because I thought they were going to hurt us there, but that wasn’t the issue. They had a few key players in the middle, finding holes, putting the balls down and I think they started doing more of that and we couldn’t retaliate. … The games were close, other than the last one. We just needed one or two of those points to go our way in the second or third (set) and it’s a whole different match.”
Crangle, following the first set loss, said he simply told his team to relax.
“The message going into game two was not to panic, have trust in what we were doing,” Crangle said. “We knew this was going to be a three-game set either way. … We put ourselves in position to win game one, we just didn’t execute. And when it got a little closer in game two, we said the same thing. We put ourselves in position to win, and it’s just a matter of executing and, ultimately, we did that the next few games.”
Crangle and his Bulldogs squad will take its momentum into the Section VI Class A finals where they’ll face Williamsville South at North Tonawanda High School at 6 p.m. Thursday.
For the Lady Falcons, the loss stings, but the team will return 11 players next season. The experience will play a key factor next season, which Cochran said she was excited about, but she added that the team will miss its seniors – Jillian Hagerty, Elise Kendt, Madelyn Ernle and Megan Murray.
“We’re going to lose some seniors and we will miss them. But we have a young team. … I can’t complain. We’re going to work hard and hopefully these girls are playing club, which is key. If they’re playing in the offseason, they’re getting better. Then, when they come back in August, we have some young ones coming up and we’re going to start all over and shoot for goal one, which is win our first match, then go from there,” Cochran said.
The Falcons finished the season 17-2 and were the Niagara Frontier League champions for a third straight season.