Weekly Feature

2018-11-08 / Sports

Girls volleyball team defeats Clarence in epic sectional title comeback

Sports Reporter

The Orchard Park girls volleyball team was on the brink of being swept. The Lady Quakers were down 21-16 in the third set of the Section VI Class AA Championship Saturday at Daemen College after losing the first two sets. Clarence was on the verge of winning its fifth-straight sectional title. It was all but over.

The Lady Quakers started serving strong and racked up seven straight points to take a 23-21 lead. Clarence would make it 23-22, then 24-23 before Orchard Park clinched the set to cut the deficit to 2-1. Less than an hour later, Orchard Park was a sectional champion after cruising through the final two sets.

“I guess we were a little too jacked up to start the match,” Orchard Park coach Greg Lardo said. “Clarence is the four-time defending sectional champion, so a lot of the girls have been in that situation. My girls had not yet. I’m sure the moment was a little too much for them in the beginning. Even in game three, we didn’t play our best.”

Kate Hennessy of Orchard Park attempts to pick up a kill while Clarence’s Leah Victor and Lexi Ballard attempt to block it during the Lady Quakers Section VI Class AA Championship victory over the Lady Red Devils Saturday at Daemen College. Photo by Kathleen Kramer. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Kate Hennessy of Orchard Park attempts to pick up a kill while Clarence’s Leah Victor and Lexi Ballard attempt to block it during the Lady Quakers Section VI Class AA Championship victory over the Lady Red Devils Saturday at Daemen College. Photo by Kathleen Kramer. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com “It’s amazing,” Kate Hennessy said. “After the first two games, I was done. I was like ‘oh God. This is not going to end well. A sweep to end my senior season would not be good.’ We wanted it really bad. We were having inspirational talks and watching all these videos. We really wanted it so bad. It was amazing to finally get there.”

Clarence took the first set 25-13, barely breaking a sweat, and had little trouble in closing out the second set by a 25-18 score. After the big comeback in the third set, Orchard Park won the fourth set 25-18 and opened up a nice early lead in set five.

“We put a little doubt in Clarence that it’s not going to be easy and you win two in a row,” Lardo said. “I’m sure they thought they had us in game three, but really we just patch-worked our way through it and got it done with everyone contributing. It was a nice team win; we haven’t had many of those this year. We rely a lot on our big outside hitters and they definitely made them normal outside tonight.”

The Lady Quakers seemed like they were going to run away with the fifth set a couple times, but the Lady Red Devils would not allow that to happen. At one point, Orchard

Park scored four straight points to make it 20-14. But Clarence fought back to make it 23-20. The Lady Quakers then took control to score the final two points and won 25-20.

“It would have been nice to win 25-15 and not have any of the stress, but when you’re up in volleyball, it usually doesn’t end with a big blowout,” Lardo said. “Teams come back, but Clarence battled back and they served tough. I don’t think we had any aces, maybe a couple. We just tried to work on getting them on a system and serving them tough. We were trying to get those easier shots.”

“I think we just all played as a team,” Hennessy said. “In the first two games, we all just wanted to be that player that wins it for everyone, but then we figured out that we have to play together like we always do. We got it together in the next three to work together and rely on each other and not just play for ourselves.”

One of the keys to the team’s turnaround was the blocking of Orchard Park. The frontline made it difficult for Clarence to get anything over the net.

“We were saying that we needed to start blocking and we started to touch balls,” Lardo said. “Then our defense found a way, then our blocking would show up and our defense would go away. It was never a smooth run that we got on. It was just patchwork, trying to make it work. We just stuck with it and kept trying to adjust. In the end, we did enough to come out on top.”

Ashley Dogal led the team in blocks with seven and also added six kills. Kate Hennessy had 10 kills, 10 digs, three blocks and two aces. Sarah Lucas had 32 assists. Abby Ryan had 21 kills, nine digs and a block.

“We’ve had big games in the past and Abby tries to hit the ball through the floor, and I think she tries too hard sometimes,” Lardo said. “We gave them a lot of points even after they missed four serves in the beginning of the game. But she settled down and played really well at the end of the match. She plays better as the matches go on. She takes care of the ball. She ran off with a three- or four-point run, which really put them behind. We talked a lot about controlling our emotions. She could have easily just gone in the tank and hurt us more than help us, but she really came through for us.”

Meanwhile, it was a difficult loss for the Lady Red Devils, who were just a few points away from clinching a fifth-straight title. They struggled to serve and to get kills against Orchard Park in the final two sets.

“OP dug in a little bit, and I think we let them off the hook with some stretches of poor serving,” Clarence coach Michael Meyer said. “They could have quit and they did not quit. My girls could have quit in the fifth game and we didn’t either. When you have the one and two team, this is probably what you’re going to get: five sets. Obviously, we would have liked to have come out on the other side of it, but it was really some volleyball that got played.

“These girls play a lot of volleyball. They’ve been up and they’ve been down. They’ve had tough matches before. I think we were OK. We definitely had some passing lapses in that fourth set. We were duking it out at the end for every point. That fifth set could have gone either way. I think that’s the bottom line.”

The title was Orchard Park’s first since 2012, a culmination of years of building up to the point where they are now. They will now move on to the Far West Regional round, where they will take on Victor at Webster-Thomas High School Friday night at 8 p.m.

“It’s crazy because I’ve never even been to a sectional game,” Hennessy said. “In the first game, we were just nervous because this atmosphere is just crazy. They’ve been here four years in a row so they know what it’s like, but we stepped it up and figured out how to play at the end there.”

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