Nov 02, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For the ninth time in the last 11 seasons, the Baldwinsville girls volleyball team sits as the proud holders of a Section III championship.
But amid the ecstasy of last Wednesday night’s victory over Fayetteville-Manlius in the Class AA final at Cicero-North Syracuse came a fair amount of relief from the Bees — players, fans and coaches alike.
Rarely in this dynastic run had B’ville been tested this much in a final. Down 2-1 in games, then down 15-10 in the decisive fifth game, the Bees fought back each time to assure that the crown stayed exactly in the same place as before.
What pulled the Bees through, said senior setter Kelsey Klopfer, was an indomitable will.
“We wanted it and gave it our all, and came out on top,” she said. “Even when we were behind, we knew we could take them.”
“This was one of the largest tests we ever faced,” said head coach Mary Jo Cerqua. “Being in the position we are in, it puts a lot of pressure on us. Everyone wants to beat us.”
And F-M wanted to more than any other team. Eight and a half months ago, in the last winter-based AA championship match, the ambitious Hornets, after its first title since 1986, succumbed to the nerves of a title match — and watched the Bees sweep them in three games.
The rematch would be far different. F-M was more mature and relaxed, and like the Bees, it had swept both of its playoff foes, so the Hornets came in with a full load of confidence, essential if anyone is to beat the Bees.
A loud and boisterous crowd at the CNS gym watched as the teams traded points throughout a tight opening game.
B’ville led at one point, 21-17, only to see F-M rally and fight off a game point to get even, 24-24. Bouncing right back, the Bees regained the serve and held on, 26-24, to grab a crucial early edge.
How crucial that game was became quickly apparent, as the Hornets utilized its full power game to take control in the match’s middle stages.
Seniors Kristen Allen, Sandra Devito and Sarah Byrne patrolled the front line and put B’ville on its heels with a wide variety of kill shots. Even with its trademark ability to keep points alive, the Bees couldn’t catch up to all those smashes.
Consequently, F-M took the second game, 25-20, leading all the way, and overcame a 19-16 deficit in the third game with six unanswered points, eventually claiming that game 25-21 to go ahead.
Something had to change. To that end, Cerqua moved middle hitter Lauren Hartman to the outside in the rotation, lining her right up with Devito and Byrne so that she could block their kill shots.
Midway through the fourth game, that changed started to pay off, as B’ville broke a 15-15 tie with a 7-1 run, which proved to be enough as, by a 25-21 margin, the Bees sent the match to the limit.
Now came the final game, an accurate microcosm of the entire match. The Bees went ahead early, 6-1, but the Hornets took over in the middle, at one point building its lead to 15-10.
Staring at the end, the Bees methodically worked its way back one more time, the key move coming when, down 18-16, it reeled off six unanswered points. On a second match point, Gabriella Nieves put away the kill, and B’ville was on top again.
Cerqua said the team’s fitness, a byproduct of the Bees’ intense practice sessions, helped them get through the late stages and stay focused amid all the pressure.
And it was a team effort. Nieves, with 12 kills, led a deep front line as Amanda Kershner had 10 kills, three aces and two blocks, while Erika Van Valkenburg had nine kills.
Right behind them, Hartman had seven kills and five blocks, with Michelle Lesser (two kills, two aces, two assists), serving star Kaitlin Maher (three aces) and libero Erin Carrino all making crucial contributions.
Klopfer, through it all, was the team’s anchor, as she picked up 30 assists, three kills and four aces, using her hard serves to produce many key points.
F-M gave an inspiring effort, too. Devito had 22 kills and four aces, while Byrne got 21 kills and three aces, and Allen added six kills and eight blocks. Sophomore Lane Brenner had a career-best 53 assists.
Many of the B’ville and F-M players know each other through club play and other ventures. So it was little surprise that, after the awards were handed out and pictures taken, the two teams freely socialized with each other, along with parents and friends, a great display of sportsmanship on a night where a great match was played.
B’ville now aims toward the state title, something it couldn’t do during past winter seasons. The regional tournament is set for Saturday, in the Albany area, and Cerqua said her team needed the long respite after the duel with F-M.
“We need time to come down from this,” she said. “Then, we focus again.”