GRAND ISLAND — Despite the loss of two All-Western New York players, the young and the restless Grand Island Lady Vikings are looking like one of the teams to beat for the 2019 Niagara Frontier League title.
Monday's nail-biting 3-2 win over visiting Lockport in an early-season battle of league unbeatens has head coach Bob Simpson's Lady Vikings at 4-0, as they quickly turn their attention to other top contenders this season, unbeaten Niagara-Wheatfield and once-beaten North Tonawanda.
“We knew going into the match with Lockport that it wasn't going to be a sweep. Neither team was going to sweep the other,” Simpson said. “We knew we'd face adversity. We got out to a 2-0 lead and Lockport, with Sam Coakley, and other big-time players, weren't going to go down easy. It went down to the fifth game.”
Among key returning players on Grand Island include outstanding junior server Grace Carey, an NFL all-star last year. Carey earned nine aces against the Lady Lions, committing only one error in 31 serves.
“We rode her all game long,” Simpson said.
Losses to graduation include First Team All-WNY middle hitter and all-NFL player Natalie Turk and libero Lindsey Robinson, also an all-WNY player.
“Forty percent of our offense ran through Natalie last year,” Simpson said.
Other key returners for GI include freshman libero Madeline Cordero, sophomore middle hitter Hessy Surrell and juniors Rose Meane and Hannah Pitts, an all-leaguer last year who has been injured and made her comeback return Monday.
Simpson said his team, Lockport, North Tonawanda and Niagara-Wheatfield, the returning state finalists, are looking like the main contenders this year in the league.
Head coach Brandi Cochran's Niagara-Wheatfield Lady Falcons went a whopping 22-1 last year, losing the Class A state final in the fifth game, 26-28. Despite significant losses to graduation, the Lady Falcons are off to a 3-0 start this season.
Key losses to graduation in Sanborn are libero Jenna Sonnenberg, who's playing volleyball at UB, outside hitter Danielle Brochey, setter Mackenzie Franks and right side hitter Katie Kostiw. Key players this year include junior setter Emily Brochey, sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Tylec sophomore middle hitter Elanna Lysiak and senior middle hitter Maddie Ernle.
Among the newcomers to watch at Niagara-Wheatfield include junior outside hitter Emma Halleen, sophomore right side hitter Emily Quider, sophomore Emily Kashella and freshman libero Sasha Zayatz.
“My players need to find ways to be aggressive in every match in order to have a chance at another winning season,” Cochran said.
“We're a young team so we're working on communication and working as a team to be as competitive as possible. I'd like our team to grow this season and focus on one league match at a time and not look ahead in the season.”
Head coach Steve Kojsza's Lady Lions (3-1 NFL) should be in the thick of things all season, led by outside hitter Coakley, as well as fellow seniors Camri King, Samantha Schaffert, Jasmine White, Kayleigh Yarbrough and Alexis Young. King and White lead the team in kills.
Rounding out the LHS roster are juniors Ashlynn Johnson, Skylina Trocha, Jailyn Gillon, state-ranked track super sprinter Kahniya James and Alex Ventura, along with freshman Alyssa Gault.
Among other local NFL teams:
LEW-PORT (current record 0-3 NFL)
Head coach Paula Singleton, returning seniors Molly Flanigan, Emily Fittante, Olivia Kisiel, Gianna Smalley and Alaina Licht. Rounding out the Lady Lancers' 2019 roster are juniors Ashlyn Gordoan-DiMaria, Adelaide Buth, Elle Marshall, Emma Pozak, Alyssa Lannon, Gianna Dorrato, Allison Beresheski, Jocelyn Tanguay and Megan Baio.
NIAGARA FALLS (current record 1-3 NFL)
Head coach: Martha Amoretti, returning seniors Jazzlin Douglas, Chanlar Lamar, Ragen Amorreti, Sarah Moreno, Angel Hoy, Emaleigh Cooper and Mckenzie Gilmore. Rounding out the Lady Wolverines' 2019 roster are juniors Nina Livesay, Chauntea Bergeron, Lydia Ligammari and Jereah Curri.
Up for grabs
It's simply too early to start talking about league championships in a tight, 6-team Niagara-Orleans League this fall.
Wilson and defending-champion Akron are currently tied for first at 2-0, but Newfane and Roy-Hart are just a game back at 1-1 as we head into the heart of the 2019 season.
Head coach Kaylee Stewart's Lakewomen are 3-0 overall, led by a strong senior contingent of Emaleigh Herlan, Trisha Manchester, Emily Wolfe, Anna Stevenson, Sarah Nugent, Anna Frerichs and Isabel Dinse.
Rounding out the Wilson roster are juniors Megan Mussall, Bictoria Pawlak, Madelyn Seeley and Taylor Mielke; and sophomore Samantha Herlan.
Head coach Alexis Damon's Newfane Lady Panthers are back on track after their recent 4-game win at Medina/Lyndonville.
Seniors Julie Bates and Stefanie Nicholas are back, along with juniors Lydia Worth, Teya Wedekind, Emiley Borrasca, Rainna Frombgen, Makenzie Killion, Natalie Seib and Eva Morgan.
Rounding out the Blue Zone roster are sophomores Abby Boyer, Sarah Leibring, Gena Shorter, Alayna Ander and Madison Meincke; and freshman libero Emma Hoffer.
In the Friendly Community, the Roy-Hart Lady Rams are led once again by veteran head coach (and avid photographer) Bill Holahan. Besides its league win over Albion back on Sept. 4, R-H posted an impressive, five-set non-league win over Pembroke recently, 3-2. The scores were 25-23, 23-25, 8-25, 25-23, 25-16.
Seniors Maddie Ciemny, Alexis Connolly, Jamie Coons, Lauryn Krieger, Kali Scharping, Jamie Seib are playing exceptionally well, as are juniors Jackie Sperduti, Renee Lehman, Madeline Groffenberg, Lina Heuer and Sam Caopen, along with sophomores Allie Dent, Marissa Scott and Ava Brigham, along with freshmen Sam Albright, Sam McIntyre and Alex Stern.
Holahan lost five starters to graduation, including N-O All-Stars Aspen Moore, Paige Dent, Alyssa Kubas, Kristina Burdick and Ella Brown.