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St. Mary's Heads to States with Core of NFVB Players

By Rocco Lucci, 11/08/17, 12:15PM EST


Good news for some Niagara Frontier players who participate on the St. Mary's of Lancaster girls varsity team.  Not only did they win the Monsignor Martin League Championship last Friday, but St. Mary's also had 6 Lancers on the 2017 All-Catholic Volleyball Team! Congrats to the following Niagara Frontier All-Catholic members... League MVP Summer Slade '18, first-teamers Hannah Mulhern '19, and Kelly Cleversley '20 and second-teamer Jasmine Brundage '20. In fact, ALL of the 14 team members on the St. Mary's roster have played on Niagara Frontier teams in the past and nine of them were chosen for NFVB team rosters this season. Check out the list below to find some other NFVB players who made one of the three All-Catholic teams.

This year’s St. Mary's team went undefeated in league play, and beat Nichols and a very strong Sacred Heart team in the Monsignor Martin playoffs. In the girls title game the Lady Lancers topped Sacred Heart three games to one to win their seventh playoff title in a row. Final scores were 25-23, 24-26, 25-19 and 25-16.  The Lancers had more controlled touches on the ball and better communication on the floor as they answered coach Don Pieczynski's (NFVB 14 Navy head coach) season-long challenge to play tougher.

"It's amazing. This group of girls is so close," said Niagara Frontier 18 Navy player, Summer Slade, who was named league MVP. "Honestly, our team chemistry has really helped with our success. Coming back from that set that we lost really boosted our confidence and it felt so great to win."  Slade delivered a series of game changing serves in the crucial third set that helped the Lancers gain control while the outstanding front row play of Hannah Mulhern, who had 14 kills and four blocks, was also a key to the Lancers win on the Sharks home court. "I could put (Hannah) anywhere and I know she's gonna come through. Hannah has had a great season and is at the top of the stat sheet in kills and kill percentage," Coach Pieczynski said. 

“We’ve been very consistent this year and have a lot of depth on the bench,” said Pieczynski. “It was truly a team effort. Numerous players needed to be part of the success instead of having just one or two big stars. We want to play all 14 of our players in every match so if we’re going to find playing time for everyone, they’re going to need to do their jobs. And they each have all season long.” The players and staff feel that Sacred Heart is one of the strongest small school teams in Western new York. They also have a few current and former Niagara Frontier club players on their roster.

The perennially successful Lady Lancers is now on their way to play for their 16th CHSAA State Championship in Long Island this Saturday. “We like to compete for the state title every year,” Pieczynski said. “Anything less than that is a let down. Each team wants to make their own legacy. The kids want to go out and do the best they can and give their best effort.”

One of the keys to being prepared to compete in the playoffs is a tough schedule in the regular season. The Lady Lancers competed in four regular-season tournaments this year which allow the girls to play against some of the best competition in the northeast. The tournaments combined with a number of non-league matches allowed the St.Mary's squad to play and beat each of the top teams in Western New York including Lancaster, Orchard Park, Eden, Our Lady of Mercy (Rochester) as well as New York State Far West Regional finalists, Williamsville East (A) and Clarence (AA).

“We usually play about four or five tournaments every year,” Pieczynski said. “We play out of town, out of state. We want the girls to get a taste of what volleyball is like in other regions. We’ve been to Phoenix, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the past few years. “You see different levels of talent at each tournament. It’s little more competitive in tournaments than it is in league play. Our players get more playing time and can work on better execution. The best way to get better is to compete against the best.” 

While St. Mary's will lose five solid players to graduation, there’s no reason to believe the team's coaching staff and underclassmen won’t keep the program going in the same direction it has for decades. 

Pieczynski has been coaching the Lady Lancers for 20 years, serving as head coach for the past 12 seasons. He attributes the program’s dominance to continuity, tradition and a steady stream of girls dedicated to the sport of volleyball. Coach Pieczynski attributes much of the teams success to the Niagara Frontier Volleyball club as well as other clubs in the area. “We have a lot of our players playing on travel or local club volleyball teams,” Pieczynski said. “We do run some camps and clinics in the summer, but the kids are just dedicated volleyball players all year long. “We have a strong tradition and the girls want to be a part of it. They know how much work they have to put in to be successful and they’re willing and able to do their part.”

Good luck at States!