Weekly Feature

2017-07-13 / Sports

St. Mary’s girls’ volleyball named Team of the Year

Sports Reporter

Victoria Jankowski of St. Mary’s uses a big spike to finish a set against Mount Mercy in the semifinals of the Monsignor Martin playoffs. St. Mary’s won the league title before going on to win states. 
File photo by Jake French Victoria Jankowski of St. Mary’s uses a big spike to finish a set against Mount Mercy in the semifinals of the Monsignor Martin playoffs. St. Mary’s won the league title before going on to win states. File photo by Jake French The St. Mary’s girls’ volleyball program did not take its foot off the gas in the 2016-17 season. The perennially successful Lady Lancers won the 15th CHSAA State Championship in program history after tearing through Monsignor Martin, winning their sixth league title in a row. For this program, success is an expectation, not a dream. Because of all of this, the Lady Lancers were named the 2016-17 Lancaster/ Depew Bee Team of the Year.

“I just think with the continuity of the coaching staff, the kids come in with the same expectations year after year,” St. Mary’s Coach Donald Pieczynski said.

Pieczynski has been coaching the Lady Lancers for 19 years, serving as head coach for the past 11 seasons. He attributes the program’s dominance — rivaled in Western New York only by Eden — to continuity, tradition and a steady stream of girls dedicated to the sport of volleyball.

“We have a lot of our players playing club volleyball,” Pieczynski said. “We do have some camps and clinics in the summer, but the kids are just dedicated volleyball players.

“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 and they’re willing and able to do their part.”

The Lady Lancers so routinely dominate the Monsignor Martin League that it’s a letdown if they don’t win the title. No group wants to be one of the few that didn’t win a league crown.

“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.”

This year’s team went undefeated in league play, defeated Mount Mercy and Sacred Heart in the Monsignor Martin playoffs and then advanced to the state championship tournament in New York City. They went 2-0-1 in pool play before defeating St. Francis Prep and Kellenberg Memorial to win the state title.

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 five regular-season tournaments this year, including trips to New Jersey and Phoenix. This allows the girls to play against some of the best competition in the country.

“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 parts of the country. We’ve been to Phoenix, New Jersey, Pennsylvania in the past few years. We’re going back to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It gives them a little taste of the national scene.

“You see different levels of talent at each tournament. It’s little more competitive in tournaments than it is in league play. There’s more playing time and better execution. The best way to get better is to play, not practice. You have to be able to compete.”

Three members of this past year’s team will continue their volleyball careers into college. Most notable is Caitlyn Meyer, who will play at James Madison after earning Monsignor Martin Player of the Year and All-Western New York honors. She’s carried on a family tradition after her sister, Leah, was also a star player for St. Mary’s. Leah was a three-time Monsignor Martin Player of the Year, an All-Western New York selection and was All-ACC last season for Duke.

“Right off the bat, she has the physical tools,” Pieczynski said. “But she’s also a hard worker. She’s following in the footsteps of her sister, Leah. She set the standard and Caitlyn is doing her best to keep up the level of play. Leah’s probably the best player to come out of Western New York in my humble opinion.”

While the team did have an all-star player in Meyer, most of the season was a team effort. There was depth and talent all positions. All 16 girls played fairly consistently.

“We’ve been very consistent this year,” Pieczynski said. “It was truly a team effort. Numerous players were part of the success instead of having just one or two big stars. We were very consistent at every position. We’re playing a roster of 16 players so if we’re going to find playing time for everyone, they’re going to need to do their jobs. And they all did.”

While the team will lose some solid players to graduation, there’s no reason to believe the next group of girls won’t keep the program going in the same direction it has for decades. It wouldn’t be a great shock to see another St. Mary’s girls’ volleyball team earn this honor.

“One of our slogans is ‘Work together to make memories.’ Each year the kids want to make new memories,” Pieczynski said. “Hopefully the kids can provide some memories in the coming season.”

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