Golden Falcons Earn Trip To State Tourney
EDITOR’S NOTE: In another edition of the “Remember When” series, the 2010 state champion Falconer volleyball team is featured. Throughout this week, The Post-Journal will be running the Golden Falcons’ final four playoff victories, including its state title contest. Today we continue with the Class C Far West Regional.
BATAVIA — As soon as match point was scored in the girls volleyball Class C Far West Regional between the Falconer Lady Golden Falcons of Section VI and the LeRoy Lady Knights of Section V, the normally calm, stoic and pensive head coach for Falconer showed a little bit of emotion.
Darin Kennedy threw his clipboard to the floor, threw his hands in the air and was as excited as any of his players who had just earned the school’s first-ever trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four tournament.
Falconer won in four games with the scores of 25-21, 24-26, 25-23 and 25-19.
“It feels good,” Kennedy said. “They were a lot tougher than anticipated in terms of their back row. They dug out a lot of our hits and I think sometimes my hitters were getting frustrated because they were keeping the ball alive back there.”
It was a challenging four games for the Lady Golden Falcons, but their offense got them through it. The combination of strong serving and outside hitting proved to be too much for the defense of the Lady Knights during the second regional of the day held at Genesee Community College.
Ashley Gunnell led the attack with 20 kills, but Corri Hannon was right behind with 19 kills of her own. Shannon Gunnell added 13 kills as Falconer’s offense was relentless.
“They went away from their attack and just started tipping,” Kennedy added. “But it was just a matter of time and I kept (my players) attacking. My philosophy is the team that attacks the most, wins the most.”
After a game one win for Falconer, the Lady Golden Falcons were in prime position to go up 2-0. It was a 13-8 advantage for the Section VI squad, before LeRoy started to swing the momentum in its favor.
Suddenly it was 16-16, then 18-18, tied again at 19 and then once more at 20-20. Neither team could grab control in the pivotal game, until Falconer went up 24-21 on a kill from Hannon.
A commanding lead in the match was almost in reach for Falconer, until a kill from LeRoy’s big hitter, Kaitlyn Tyler, and two aces later re-tied the game at 24.
The Lady Knights stole a game two victory and suddenly it was anybody’s match.
“I knew that all their middles do it tip,” Kennedy said. “My setter all year has been able to release out of the back row early because that keeps the other teams out of sync, but as she was trying to leave they were hitting their tips to where she was. I was trying to adjust to that.”
Once all the proper adjustments were made, the Lady Golden Falcons got back on track. A narrow win in game three set the stage for a whole lot of outside hitting courtesy of Hannon and Ashley Gunnell in game four.
With a 2-1 advantage, Falconer didn’t let up and the Lady Golden Falcons cemented their spot in the state semifinals.
“We’re really excited,” Gunnell said. “Especially for our coach. It feels great considering it’s the first time for both (Section VI and Far West Regional) titles in our school’s history.”
Despite the high number of kills the Falconer offense racked up, it didn’t come easily against a fundamentally sound Lady Knights team.
“For the most part (I’m happy with our offense),” Kennedy said. “We didn’t get into system as much as we usually do, but a lot of this game is run out of system and you have to have a good mix out there on the floor. We were able to keep the shots going.”
At times, communication on the floor was difficult with a gymnasium packed full of Lady Knights fans, who needed to travel only approximately 10 miles west of their high school to Genesee CC for the regional match. The Lady Golden Falcons handled the hostile environment well.
“The biggest challenge for us was the loudness of the gym,” Ashley Gunnell said. “It was hard for our setter to hear us so we had to yell a lot louder than normal.”
Six seniors were used throughout the match by Kennedy. In big games on neutral courts, there’s nothing like having a core group of seniors to keep your season alive.
“I played (Ashley Breth) who is a senior more than my libero and she’s only a sophomore,” Kennedy said. “(Breth) really stepped up for us.”
Big plays from Breth, key serves from Kendra Brown and Leslie Bianco, and the trio of Hannon, Ashley Gunnell and Cherise Gunnell throughout the match led Falcone to a victory.
Cherise Gunnell finished with 38 assists and six digs; Ashley Gunnell added two aces, 15 digs and two blocks to her stat sheet; Hannon supplied a double-digit digs herself with 10; and Shannon Gunnell added 10 digs and five blocks in the middle.
Bianco served four aces, which led the team as well.
“I learned what I knew before — that we were a really good serving team,” Kennedy said. “We can spot serve to keep them out of system and when we’re in system we are very good on the attack.”
The Lady Golden Falcons played sound volleyball on Saturday and will have a little less than a week to prepare for their next match in pool play Saturday afternoon in Glens Falls.