They're on opposite ends of a local map — one surrounded by water, the other dissected by it — but Grand Island and Lockport girls volleyball teams find themselves in almost identical situations heading to today's all-important Niagara Frontier League showdown at LHS.
Head coach Bob Simpson's Lady Vikings enter the Lady Lions' Den with a league and overall record of 10-1, just a game out of first, currently held by undefeated Niagara-Wheatfield (9-0 NFL), while head coach Steve Kojsza's third-place Lady Lions are close behind at 9-2 in the NFL (10-3 overall).
Both teams desperately want a win today, which would put them in a direct position to challenge the Lady Falcons for the title since both LHS and GI are scheduled to take on N-W one more time in the coming days. A win over Lockport and N-W would give GI at least a share of the title, while Lockport needs a win over GI and at least two N-W losses as the league regular season slate winds down in the coming weeks.
“I think this going to be an evenly-matched game (today),” Simpson said. “Lockport is very-well coached and they're senior heavy. Any time you have that, you know you're playing a tough team that's been there before. We went five sets with Niagara-Wheatfield the last time at home and it ended up being a disappointing loss for us, but the top three teams are all so close this year and I know Lockport is looking forward to playing Niagara-Wheatfield again, as much as we are.”
Leading the host blue and gold is five-year varsity standout senior Sam Coakley, an All-Western New York selection a year ago. Coakley, along with five additional seniors, Jasmine White, Sam Schaffert, Kayleigh Yarbrough, Camri King and Alexis Young have the Lady Lions prepared and confident heading to today's match.
“I think we have a really good chance to win NFL if we keep pushing and doing everything we need to do,” said high-flying 5-11 senior front line standout Jasmine White. “Before every game, our coach does a really good job of preparing us. Where ever we see a possible weakness, we tend to work on that more at practice.”
The Lady Vikings will bring some big-time players, led by 5-10 junior outside hitter Grace Carey, who's averaging slightly over 10 kills per game. Other GI players to watch out for today are 5-10 junior outside hitter Hannah Pyc, a 6-2 sophomore middle hitter Tereska Sorel
“Hannah's another very emotional player,” Simpson said. “When she's on, were flying on all cylinders. Tereska is another girl who's come on in her second year of varsity. What we need to do to beat Lockport is contain their big hitters, especially Sam Coakley, who was a First Team All-Western New York player last year. We've worked on that all week, trying to make them beat us with their second and third options, rather than their first. We can't have her take the game away from us.”
Kojsza praised the Lady Vikings as “consistent.”
“You know what you're gonna get. They're really a well-coached team. They've got a lot of fundamentals down and they really gel together,” Kojsza said.
“Right now, we're in third and fighting to move up in the standings, rather than stay put where we are. Sam's been outstanding on the outside — just super consistent. We can always rely on her to get a big point. Jasmine has been rally dynamic and a great leaper and great blocker. She puts the ball down on the floor very well.
“Camri just came over from Medina and has helped set for us. She's really athletic and has a great swing from the right side,” Kojsza said. “Sam Schaffert is out right now, but she's been outstanding in the middle. Kayleigh has stepped in well to play libero for us and junior Kahniya James has stepped up in the middle. She's doing a great job — another big leaper. She gets over the top of blockers all of the time.”
Tonight's best-of-five games varsity match begins at about 6 p.m.
Follow veteran Union-Sun &n Journal sports reporter and editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.