Falcons reach first sectional final in history, have core of players returning for 2018
By David Yarger
The 2017 Niagara-Wheatfield girls volleyball season was one that many will remember throughout the Falcons program. Coach Brandi Cochran's team won the Niagara Frontier League championship, lost two matches all season and reached the program's first ever Section VI championship.
However, one of the two losses came in the Section VI Class A finals versus Williamsville East, 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 25-12, 25-18). Cochran's first priority following the game, though, was for her team to keep their heads held high and remember all the accolades and accomplishments from the season.
"I told the girls to realize how incredibly proud they need to be of their team. They fought hard in that last match and, win or lose, they have to know they are a very talented team that is inspiring to watch," Cochran said. "I wanted to make sure they recognized how special this season was and what an honor it was to be league champions and to represent Class A in the sectional final match. I'm hoping they are proud of everything they've accomplished this year because I sure am."
On a personal note, Cochran said this season was one of the more memorable ones for her and one she'll cherish for a long time.
"Every season I've coached is memorable for me because I get to work with such amazing athletes, however this season was something special because I knew early on our team was one of the most talented volleyball teams N-W has ever had," she said. "Our first goal of the season was to win the NFL championship, so once that was accomplished I wanted to make sure we set higher goals for the postseason and work hard to meet them. I really couldn't be happier with the way the season turned out, other than a sectional win obviously, but even with the loss in the final I feel like our team belonged in that final match and made history for N-W women's volleyball. I couldn't be prouder of the girls."
The team will lose seniors Kelsey Lachowski, Carly and Mikaela Milleville and captain Callista Zayatz. Cochran gave high praise to seniors, calling them "one of the hardest working, intelligent, athletic and overall nice groups" she'd ever coached.
Losing seniors hurts in any high school sport, but the team will have 10 players returning for 2018, five of which are starters. Seven juniors will return, including University at Buffalo commit, libero and team captain Jenna Sonnenberg. Other juniors include Tiara Borzillire, Danielle Brochey, Mackenzie Franks, Jordan Graber, Kierston Klidonas, Katie Kostiw and Breanna Walker. Cochran has younger role players returning, as well, in ninth-grader Emily Brochey and eighth-grader Kelsey Tylec. Cochran said returning that many players give her high hopes for next season.
"I have high expectations for next season. Having said that, every season is different and every team starts the year undefeated and with lofty goals, so we need to stay grounded as a team and realize the hard work and dedication it will take to be in a similar situation next year as we head into the postseason. I'm hoping our team gets to work in the offseason to prepare for another successful run next year," she said.
With any loss, it leaves a sour taste with a team, thinking of how far they've came and how close they were. Cochran said the loss versus Williamsville East will likely be used as fuel to prepare for next season and to get back to where they were this past season.
"I definitely think the girls will use this loss as motivation to work hard during the offseason in travel ball and at the start of next season, so we can potentially have another shot at the title next year," she said.
"Unfortunately, this year we gave up too many easy points and unforced errors against a very powerful, disciplined team and we fell short. If we work hard and are given the chance to make it deep into the postseason for a second year in a row, I'm guessing the team will use their experience from this year to stay mentally tough and play more consistently to have a better shot at the title."
After reaching the finals this year, the Falcons want to go back next year and finish victorious. Cochran said, though, it really isn't sectional title or bust next year, and she just wants to take things one step at a time.
"I believe in setting small goals throughout the season that eventually build to a bigger end goal. To be honest, the first goal I want my team to make next year is to have a successful pre-season that will prepare us for a strong start in league play. It would be amazing to set our sights on another sectional finals appearance, but I don't want it to become a pressure situation.
"We will start by doing whatever we can to build our team back up to the level of play we ended with this year and as the season unfolds we will set higher expectations. But, for the record, I'm hoping we earn the chance to play for another sectional title next year," she said.