SANBORN — There’s not much more that can be said about the 2018 Niagara Wheatfield girls volleyball season.
Accomplishments included a second straight Niagara Frontier League championship, the program’s first-ever Section VI title and — who could forget — the team’s run to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A finals.
The Lady Falcons didn’t lose a set until the Section VI finals last season and were a match point away from being state champs. Despite the loss, the team accomplished a feat no other NW volleyball squad had.
Coming into 2019, not much was expected of the group, especially following the loss of nine seniors, including All-NFL all-stars Danielle Brochey, Mackenzie Franks, Katie Kostiw and Jenna Sonnenberg, who now plays at the University at Buffalo.
That mindset is quickly changing, though, as the Lady Falcons have started 7-0 following a 3-0 victory over Kenmore West on Thursday night.
The Lady Falcons won’t have it easy this year, as the majority of Section VI has placed a target on theri back. Coach Brandi Cochran acknowledged to her players that other squads were going to come hard to knock them off.
“I told the girls right off the bat in preseason that this is a whole new team, whole new year, but, because of the reputation that we’ve pretty much made for ourselves, and the teams before us, (teams) will be gunning to beat you. And even if they score a point, it’s going to be like they’re winning the match. They were warned,” Cochran said.
The coach admitted her team is a far cry from last year’s loud bunch but added it's part of the adjustment to leading a whole new squad of girls.
Setter and junior captain Emily Brochey added, “We knew we were going to have a target on our back, especially coming off of second in the state and losing nine seniors. So, we had to put a lot of work in so we could be like the same strong team and set small goals so we could just make big accomplishments.”
The pressure coming off a state finals appearance could weigh heavy on some players. Cochran said the team has put the season in the rear view mirror, regardless of how successful it was.
“I think the main thing I told them was, ‘It’s a new year.’ As much as we have awesome memories from last year and even years before, we can’t base future success on what has happened in the past. We’re playing like our mentality last year, taking it match by match,” Cochran said.
Cochran added that goals of a league title and sectional championship aren’t on the plate just yet, as the team is focused on getting better each match. If the winning continues, she said, “it would be awesome to repeat.”
Losing the core from last year’s team was difficult, Cochran said, but she praised the players coming up the pipeline.
“The girls coming up are athletic,” Cochran said. “That’s one thing I can say at Wheatfield. We always replace with athletes, no matter what. The ball control, the leadership, the power that I had, defensively and offensively, that is not easy to replace. We were lucky to have so many positions that were taken last year, so we’re still working on it.”
Sophomore Elanna Lysiak, who played big minutes for the state finals team, added, “I think it’s a big loss for our team, but we’ve had people that are stepping up really well this season.”
Despite the departures, the Lady Falcons return some players from last year’s state team, such as Emily Brochey, Lysiak, sophomore Kelsey Tylec and seniors Jillian Hagerty, Elise Kendt, Megan Murray and Maddie Ernle.
Last season, that group was able to work with the Lady Falcons’ strong core, and Cochran said certain traits were passed on to this returning crew.
“They pretty much could not have an off day in practice, because they were either going to get six-packed in the face or Jenna Sonnenberg would’ve been all over them to hustle. The leadership that they got to experience from those girls I don’t think will ever be replaced. And now I think they’re in those roles. … This year, they’re the leaders and the ones trying to encourage everyone,” Cochran said.
“They definitely taught us how to be energetic, stay involved in the play, be loud and communicate with our teammates,” Brochey, who shared the court with her sister last season, said. “I feel like their energy definitely taught us how to become leaders on the court.”
Cochran added that the returners can use last year’s experiences to their advantage, as the Lady Falcons played in front of big crowds and in high-pressure situations.
“Any time they feel overwhelmed this year, I can tell those girls who were in that position last year, ‘You were in the state finals against girls that were pounding the ball. This should not be an issue.’ Then they’ll go, ‘Yeah, you’re right,’ and they’ll figure it out,” Cochran said.
To start the season off as strongly as the Lady Falcons have, especially with many people expecting a bit of a rebuild, speaks volumes to the depth of the NW volleyball program.
“We had three returners. … The girls that are coming in are all club players. So, that’s the thing, you look at our court, at one time or another they played club, they know how the game works, they have the experience, so, I think, the more you look at it, as long as you’re playing year-round, it really does wonders to the program,” Cochran said. “We’re making it work. I wouldn’t say we’re the powerhouse we were last year, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again or in years to come, but they are playing as a team and doing awesome.”
“Teams might not have expected us to be that strong of a team, but we really are when everyone is working hard like they have been,” Brochey said.
Cochran added the team is an amazing group of girls, and, sometimes may even be a little too nice, but it makes them a fun bunch to coach.
The Lady Falcons will take their talents to Section V's Victor High School for the Victor Varsity Tournament today. NW resumes NFL play at 6 p.m. Monday at Niagara Falls.