Volleyball teams across the region are beginning play this week — some started last weekend — and coaches are in the beginning stages of getting to know their teams. Some are young and some have the experience necessary to make a deep run in 2012.
In this year's boys volleyball preview, we set the scene for the season in the land of spikes and digs.
North Tonawanda boys volleyball coach Luke Hodgson has the luxury of knowing that virtually all of his players are well versed in more than one position on the court.
"The thing that stands out the most is so many of these guys can play so many different spots," Hodgson said.
The Jacks are led by co-captains Chris Libroia and Ryan Fritz, as they boast a roster of eight returning players: seniors Andrew Metzger, Zach Mullins, Elliaggia Sobus III, Tyler Walker, Nick Vossler, and junior Joe Pitrowski.
The Jacks also welcome three talented newcomers from the JV squad, Brandon Lavocat, Sam Weglarski and Donovan Book. All three saw substantial time on JV and are expected to push hard for playing time on varsity.
— Dave Ricci
Coach Mark Anzalone said that most volleyball teams in the area would kill to be in his team's position — ranked No. 2 in Western New York early in the 2012 season.
But his Marauders expect to be the best.
Over the weekend, St. Joe's competed in the Clarence Tournament against some of the area's top teams. The Marauders won their way through the field before falling to arch rival, Canisius (25-23, 24-26, 15-7).
"Most teams would be pretty happy with No. 2," Anzalone said. "But we're expecting to be No. 1."
St. Joe's returns nine players from last season's 17-7 squad, including senior center Jack Heary — and all-tournament selection over the weekend. Two big subtractions from 2011 — Rob Heary (second-team all-Western New York) and Joe Hachdrl — were key players and two-year starters for Anzalone. He said the pair were strong leaders, but he expects a number of returning players to pick up the slack.
The Marauders do a little bit of everything on the court and Anzalone said his team has very few holes or weaknesses.
"Every guy on the floor can put the ball away," he said. "Our versatility is our strength and the team has a lot of determination and heart."
— Matt Parrino
The Hawks haven't been the toughest team in Monsignor Martin in recent years, but Cardinal O'Hara coach Brian Lamping said his team is tired of the stigma and is planning to turn some heads in 2012.
"We're expecting to go places," Lamping said. "We're expecting big things and we're going to become a contender in the league. We're adding our name to the mix and teams are going to start to realize you have to come out and beat O'Hara."
This year's O'Hara team is senior-heavy and Lamping is excited with what he's seen thus far. The Hawks return five starters, none more important than four-year varsity center Anthony Candino. The team will also look to outside hitter Tyler Re and Andrew Wolbert to help generate points for O'Hara.
Lamping likes the way his team has prepared for the season.
"We're playing with much more intensity," Lamping said. "This is the final year for a lot of the players and they're showing a drive to win. They're showing it in practices and in scrimmages and we're coming out swinging every day."
The team will be without graduated libero Dave Meidel who held the back row together last season, but Lamping expects sophomore Jake Shapiro to make a quick transition from JV volleyball and have success this season.
The Hawks begin play this weekend at the North Tonawanda tournament.
Coach Kyle Horvatis is optimistic about the 2012 season. His Bulldogs are coming off a 2011 season that saw them win nine games overall and go 8-4 in the Niagara Frontier League.
The season started successfully last Friday when the Bulldogs beat Sweet Home 3-0.
With six returning players Horvatis sees confidence and a hunger in his team to surpass last season's record.
The Bulldogs felt the sting of elimination when they were upset by Williamsville South in the sectional quarterfinals. Horvatis said that his guys understandably took the loss hard, but to their credit the Bulldogs used that loss to work even harder in the offseason as they prepared for this year.
Horvatis also said that his underclassmen saw how hard the departing senior class took the loss. And it's pushing them to work even harder so they don't endure that same feeling of the season ending too soon.
The Bulldogs are led by tri-captains Michael Crawford, Drake Dejesus and Kyle Patterson. Ari Nagelhout, Jordan Mendola, and Matt Donn are also returning seniors.
"The seniors that I have have been playing for five-plus years and they're experienced," Horvatis said. "They have to realize that they're seniors. There is no next year ... it's really up to them to step up every game. They already told me they're up for the challenge."
The Bulldogs are also excited to be back in their home gym at Kenmore East after renovations forced them to play home games at Kenmore Middle last year.
— Dave Ricci
The Blue Devils are coming in with the mindset that 2012 is a clean slate and the struggles of 2011 are in the past. That positive attitude and desire to work hard and learn more is what has coach Gary Tocke the most optimistic about what his boys will do in 2012.
"I said to them, 'we don't live in the past," Tocke explained."It doesn't matter what we did yesterday or last week. It just doesn't matter.'"
Last season the Blue Devils were on the young side and had to rely on senior Tim Kelly to carry them through most games. This year, there is a lot more balance throughout the roster and, even though they had some bumps in the road last year, every bump helped them learn and get better.
Alex Schwagler, Niko Mancuso, Mitch Roberts, Jacob Webb, Patrick Rowland, Chris Dymond, and Nick Gara return for the Blue Devils. Joe Higgins is projected to get quality minutes. Mitch Maracle is another new face to the varsity roster.
Tocke is also trying to pump up the troops by reminding them of Kenmore West's rich tradition of volleyball success and to make them want to be apart of it.
— Dave Ricci