Weekly Feature



2018-09-12 / Sports

Girls volleyball team wins St. Mary’s tourney

As good as Clarence’s girls volleyball team has been for virtually the entire Clarence’s girls volleyball team made the most of its first-ever appearance in the finals at Saturday’s annual St. Mary’s of Lancaster Tournament, as the Lady Red Devils took down the hosts by 25-11, 25-18 marks to win the championship. Members of the team include, from left: bottom row - Lexi Ballard, Izzy Kocz, Olivia Walczak, Miranda Edmondson, Lexi MacDonald, Nina Nicometi, Haley Marlowe, Jessica Fitch; top row - Taylor Denall, Kayla Brady, Julianne Bolton, Allie Klonowski, Leah Victor, Jaide Cummings and Jenna Hugenschmidt. Clarence’s girls volleyball team made the most of its first-ever appearance in the finals at Saturday’s annual St. Mary’s of Lancaster Tournament, as the Lady Red Devils took down the hosts by 25-11, 25-18 marks to win the championship. Members of the team include, from left: bottom row - Lexi Ballard, Izzy Kocz, Olivia Walczak, Miranda Edmondson, Lexi MacDonald, Nina Nicometi, Haley Marlowe, Jessica Fitch; top row - Taylor Denall, Kayla Brady, Julianne Bolton, Allie Klonowski, Leah Victor, Jaide Cummings and Jenna Hugenschmidt. decade to date, there’s one tournament title that always eluded the Lady Red Devils: The St. Mary’s of Lancaster Tournament.

That’s no longer the case after the 2018 installment as Clarence took down the host Lady Lancers by 25-11 and 25-18 marks to claim the championship and put an exclamation point on a successful start to this year’s campaign.

“You never really know what kind of team you have until actual play starts, but we were hopeful that we would be able to field another strong team with all the returning talent — including all stars Jaide Cummings, Lexi MacDonald and Leah Victor — and with the addition of some younger talent in Lexi Ballard, Olivia Walczak, Izzy Kocz and Nina Nicometi,” coach Mike Meyer said. “St. Mary’s is always a great tournament with tough teams all over the gym. We came in expecting to play hard, face tough teams, and use it as an opportunity to get better as is always our goal. St. Mary’s also has been a chance in past to figure out where we were at this point in the season and in many years has kick started our drive to improve. This year was no different, except for the final result.”

The Lady Red Devils plowed through pool-play opponents Lancaster (25-23, 25-18), Nardin (25-19, 25-16) and Rochester Mercy (25-22, 19-25) to finish the first portion of the tournament with a 5-1 record, good for second in their pool and third overall. Meyer was especially pleased with Clarence’s serving against Lancaster, though he also noted that “it honestly was extremely effective all day at making other teams have to play out of system most of the time.” Middle hitters Jessica Fitch and Ballard were particularly effective in their roles against the Lady Legends.

“Our girls showed composure and confidence in the crucial moments at the ends of the Lancaster sets,” Meyer said.

Clarence’s depth was on display against Nardin, Meyer noted, with Allie Klonowski, Julianne Bolton, Taylor Denall and Kayla Brady all playing and contributing by each recording kills and playing at a high level. Against Mercy, Clarence jumped out to a fast start behind the serving of Cummings and MacDonald, but in the end it was the defensive play by Cummings, MacDonald, Jenna Hugenschmidt and Izzy Kocz that really stood out in Meyer’s estimation. MacDonald in particular made what Meyer called “an almost impossible” save near the net to help seal the first game.

At the same time, Walczak, Victor, Cummings and Miranda Edmondson were all taking big swings from the outside throughout the match, allowing the setters to spread the ball around and keep Mercy guessing.

The Lady Red Devils, by way of their pool-play performance, drew Eden for the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Tough serving and solid defense once again set the tone for Clarence, which went on to win the match by 25-16, 25-21 marks. Hugenschmidt in particular was solid from the serving line and “was diving all over the place to save balls for her teammates.”

“After that match she said that she was going to have bruises all over her body, and I just told her that was how she was going to remember what she did for her teammates that day,” Meyer said.

A rematch with Mercy was awaiting Clarence in the semifinal round, and this time there would be no split as the Lady Red Devils secured a 25-22, 25-19 victory. Cummings, MacDonald, Walczak and Edmondson all had “huge swings from the pin,” Meyer said, while Ballard added some timely kills in the middle to help keep Mercy off base. Denall provided several blocks at key moments in the second set to help seal the victory.

The day’s theme of tough serving and relentless offense through high-level passing helped carry Clarence to the title, as the Lady Red Devils jumped out to a fairly easy first-set win. The Lady Lancers opened the second set with a renewed sense of offensive urgency, but Clarence’s depth and frequent substitutions thwarted the tournament’s hosts.

“We stepped onto the court with a great mindset against St. Mary’s and played them very aggressively in all parts of the game,” Meyer said. “In the finals, and all day, really, you could really see the team concept on display. Every girl on and off the court embraced her role and did whatever she could to help the team be victorious. Everybody found a way to help the team. It is early in the season but there was much Saturday to be excited about and it really gives us something to build on; we truly were a team that was greater than the sum of its parts.

“This is the first time that we were even in the finals since I have been here, and one of many things that I was proud of was that the girls refused to let themselves be satisfied with just being in the finals, or just beating St. Mary’s one game,” Meyer continued. “They were there to try as hard as they could and as long as they could to compete. They saw that they all have a role to play and that if they embrace that role and give all they have, the team can be successful.”

Clarence came into the tournament feeling good about its chances after knocking off Williamsville North two days earlier, 26-24, 25-23, 25-20, in a Miranda Edmondson, middle, finishes off a play with a successful spike past Lancaster’s Meghan Vona during the Clarence girls volleyball team’s march to its first-ever title at Saturday’s annual St. Mary’s of Lancaster Tournament. Photo by Jake French Miranda Edmondson, middle, finishes off a play with a successful spike past Lancaster’s Meghan Vona during the Clarence girls volleyball team’s march to its first-ever title at Saturday’s annual St. Mary’s of Lancaster Tournament. Photo by Jake French rematch of last fall’s Class AA semifinal. All three games were tied at 20-20 before the Lady Red Devils were able to ultimately pull out the wins.

“We knew going in that we were going to be in for a tough match, since this is pretty much the same North team that pushed us to five games last year in the sectional semifinal,” Meyer said. “We knew that they played great defense and served tough, and we knew that they were going to be ready for us. Though this match was played in the first week of the season it had the intense feel of a midseason match, and a very high level of volleyball was displayed by both teams.

Ballard, Cummings, Victor and Walczak all had more than five kills for the match, with Walczak leading the way with eight. Hugenschmidt, Cummings, MacDonald and Walczak were also steady all night with their serve receiving, providing the setters with the opportunity to run their offense. Defense was also on display with Hugenschmidt, Cummings and MacDonald all finished in double figures in digs, while Hailey Marlowe sealed the deal in the third set with five straight tough serves to end the match.

“The girls just showed that not only are they talented, but they know how to compete,” Meyer said. “When the games got down to the end, they played with composure and confidence against a very good team.”

Clarence opened the season on Sept. 4 by taking down Jamestown with relative ease, 25-7, 25-14, 25-18. Marlowe and Kocz, Clarence’s two new setters this season, both took command of the offense and spread the ball around to all of the hitters, with Meyer noting that “they also played with confidence and poise at the position.” In general, the Lady Red Devils passed well and made the right plays to secure the easy win.

MacDonald led the squad with seven aces.

Clarence returned to action Monday against Orchard Park, but information about that match was not available at press time. The Lady Red Devils close out their week by traveling to Williamsville East today and then hit the road to face West Seneca West on Friday.

“We just need to remember what made us successful over the weekend and continue to strive to get better,” Meyer said. “These girls have truly embraced the team ‘we before me’ mantra we’ve used as a guide post for the season.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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