Weekly Feature



2014-07-17 / Sports

West boys volleyball named Bee’s Team of Year

by JASON NADOLINSKI
Reporter


West Seneca West’s boys volleyball team claimed a share of the ECIC Division I championship this past fall, which helped it earn Team of the Year honors for the 2013-14 school year from The West Seneca Bee. Members of the team included, from left: Ryan Kilijanski (ECIC I all-star), Evan Koehler (All-WNY first team), Nicholas Clancy (ECIC I all-star), Steven Whitlow, Dylan Koehler, Matthew Dembski, Jake Gromlovits, Joshua Lund, Daniel Feeney, Cameron Bartus, Zach Bochacki, Gregg Hart, Dennis Ulmer and Pat Hoestermann. West Seneca West’s boys volleyball team claimed a share of the ECIC Division I championship this past fall, which helped it earn Team of the Year honors for the 2013-14 school year from The West Seneca Bee. Members of the team included, from left: Ryan Kilijanski (ECIC I all-star), Evan Koehler (All-WNY first team), Nicholas Clancy (ECIC I all-star), Steven Whitlow, Dylan Koehler, Matthew Dembski, Jake Gromlovits, Joshua Lund, Daniel Feeney, Cameron Bartus, Zach Bochacki, Gregg Hart, Dennis Ulmer and Pat Hoestermann. It’s one thing to be good, but to be good in a division where the “weakest” team is close to being on par with the “best” team shows that success isn’t a fluke.

That’s exactly the scenario West Seneca West’s boys volleyball team found itself in this past fall: West was a top-notch team, but so were the other half dozen squads making up ECIC Division I. But it was West that rose to the top, earning a share of the regular season championship with Hamburg — the eventual Section VI Class B champion — after posting an 11-1 record against league foes.

The only other time West won a division title, by the way? That would be in 2004, when future professional player and 2012 Olympian Matt Anderson was cutting his volleyball teeth while guiding the Indians to a perfect record in league play.

That type of success against a loaded field served as the main impetus behind the squad being named The West Seneca Bee’s Team of the Year for the 2013-14 school year.

“We knew we’d be good, but we knew everyone else would be pretty good too,” coach Brett Widman said. “Most of our matches went to five games; we might’ve had just one blowout. Every match was tight. There weren’t any bad teams in our division. It really came down to who played the best defense and who served the best any given night. We had a couple of matches where we were down quite a few points in the fifth game that we rallied to win. We were just resilient, stuck with our game plan and did our thing.”

Doing its thing meant West’s passers were looking for Evan Koehler on virtually every offensive play, whether that meant getting the All-WNY all-star a chance for a kill or just feinting sending the ball his way to draw the opposition’s best middle blocker away from the player who was really going to get the kill attempt for the Indians — more often than not being Gregg Hart, whom Widman said “was almost an automatic kill when we sent the ball to him.”

It was a formula that clearly worked for West, given the squad’s success in both league and tournament play.

“Evan was probably the best hitter in the section; he could kill the ball from anywhere,” Widman said. “We obviously tried to get Evan the ball as much as we could. We had probably the two best middles in the section as well, and my thought was that if we could get the ball to them enough we’d distract the other teams’ blockers and have a better chance at getting the ball to Evan.”

West was anything but a one-trick pony, though. The Indians had a lineup stacked with tall players, which gave them an ominous presence up front. And yet even with that size, Widman took pride in the fact that the Indians didn’t let their height define them.

“We had a lot of height last year, which is obviously good in volleyball, but I emphasize to the guys on my team the value of them being able to play every position,” Widman said. “They’re very versatile in that regard. It really just depended on what would work the best on any given day that dictated how we’d approach a match. We built our strategy on a per-team basis.”

Regardless of the opponent, one of West’s go-to strategies that played a significant role in the team’s success this year was its serving. Nearly everyone on the squad was able to start a rally well from the serving line, and with Widman admitting that the squad’s passing wasn’t the greatest last fall, West did its best to emphasize its positive attributes — like serving — while minimizing the impact that its weaker attributes might cause.

“We used our serving to our advantage to where we won a lot of our matches with our serving alone,” Widman said. “Teams knew our passing and defense were probably our biggest Achilles heels, so with us knowing passing was an issue, we worked on playing off iffy passes and converting on broken plays, and that practice paid off. Passes are rarely ever perfect.

“We just did the best to capitalize on our personnel,” Widman added. “Whenever we needed someone to step up, they did. We learned early on that making mistakes isn’t a bad thing and that you can learn from them. We just did things out there without being nervous about the circumstances.”

That ability to take nerves out of the equation helped West claim the Silver Flight championship at the annual Eden Pan-Am Tournament. The Indians took out Canisius — the school Widman said was “the unanimous choice as the best team in the section”— along the way to knocking off Lancaster for the title.

Both squads were opponents West hadn’t beaten “in years,” according to Widman, so knocking them off in the Eden Tournament validated West’s approach and bolstered the Indians early on in their campaign.

“It was there [at Eden] that we felt we had a legitimate shot at winning the league title,” Widman said. “Our confidence went way up after that. Our success had lot to do with the boys’ personality and perseverance, and I think it was also partially a result of the culture we’ve been trying to build in my eight years with the varsity program. I always called it blue collar, hard nosed volleyball. We didn’t give up and we practiced with a lot of intensity. There was never any down time. We had season-long goals and individual match goals, and we did what we could to hit those goals and let everything else fall where it may.

“It was surreal almost,” Widman continued. “The kids were just really resilient. They all were extremely hard working, had the desire to win, and they had that attitude that if down, we were not going to give up. This year’s team had just the right mix of everything you need to have success.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

Return to top