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HS notebook: Falcons experiencing ‘banner’ season

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South Lewis finally has its first Frontier League volleyball banner to display on the school’s gym wall.

The Falcons had never won a regular-season or tournament title in the history of their volleyball program. On Saturday, South Lewis defeated Sandy Creek to claim the treasured white banner with the blue lettering and bright red trim.

The accomplishment topped off an exciting season of firsts and bests and hopes for more good things to come over the next two weeks.

“We have been working so hard,” South Lewis middle hitter Liz Egnew said. “It’s so nice to see all of it pay off.”

South Lewis has also broken a slew of school records this season, and it has finally beaten perennial power Beaver River for the first time.

“We have such a close team,” outside hitter Gabby Hartley said. “I don’t think it would have happened if we didn’t have such a close relationship with everyone. It’s amazing.”

The Falcons entered the league playoffs as the No. 4 seed and upset regular-season co-champions Lowville and Sandy Creek en route to their first league tournament title.

South Lewis lost twice to Sandy Creek during the season but defeated the Comets in just three games in the finals.

“We’ve been working really hard on our strategic methods, instead of just going up and hitting a ball,” Egnew said. “We’ve been watching a lot of film, studied, did our homework and practiced.”

The Falcons also won the sportsmanship award, presented by the officials at the league championships.

“It’s such a great feeling,” South Lewis coach Ashley Gino said. “Everyone is rooting for us. It’s meant a lot.”

She credits the leadership of her five seniors — Egnew, Hartley, Heather Bates, Tasha Ortlieb and Megan Hoffert — for the team’s success. Last year, Gino took them aside and started to prepare the girls for their final high school campaign.

“I met with them as soon as we knew our season was complete,” Gino said. “And I told them from here on out your future of your senior year starts now, and what you guys do with this team is up to you, but the leadership is what’s going to determine your success.”

The senior leaders have responded.

“They by far are the reason this team is successful,” Gino said. “When we do get down, they are the glue that puts it back together. Because they know the game, I don’t have to micromanage the team. They study film religiously, they ask me for film, they take it home and watch it together as a team.”

The Falcons do have underclassmen playing crucial roles this season, including junior libero Jayne Strigle, junior Marissa Brown and sophomore Chloe Stinebrickner.

“Jayne was pulled up (to varsity) and started as a freshman,” Gino said. “She’s right there with that senior group, pulling everyone along. Chloe filled in a huge gap with our setting, and Marissa filled in the other middle spot, so those girls definitely filled in huge holes.”

Egnew, Bates, Strigle and Stinebrickner have been wreaking havoc with the school records.

“They’ve demolished the record board this season,” Gino said.

Egnew set records for kills and aces, while Bates holds several serving records. Strigle set records for digs last year and has been breaking her own marks this season. Stinebrickner holds all the school records for assists, which were set by 2012 graduate Jennifer Strigle.

The Falcons are learning how to put enough power behind the ball while maintaining control. It’s a balancing act.

“We need to control what happens on our side of the net,” Gino said.

“Sometimes we try to be a hero, and then we end up with too many unforced errors and lose it,” Gino said. “And then we try to go too safe and we don’t put enough pressure on opponents and they hit the ball too hard at us. So we said we have to go in with as much pressure with controlling those unforced errors.”

The team is also discovering they can maintain mental toughness during close, nerve-wracking matchups.

“You can’t freak out,” Hartley said. “You need to stay calm and work on getting your ball over, your hits in the right places.”

SECTIONAL VOLLEYBALL

The Falcons now have their sights set on a gold Section 3 banner with blue letters and trim. South Lewis (14-5) is the No. 4 seed in the Class C-1 bracket and is scheduled to host No. 5 Pulaski in the quarterfinals at 6:30 tonight at Turin. No. 6 Beaver River travels to third-seeded Lowville for another quarterfinal match.

In today’s Class C-2 quarterfinals, No. 2 Sandy Creek is scheduled to host No. 7 Fabius-Pompey at 6.

In Class A quarterfinals, No. 4 Carthage (13-4) hosts No. 5 New Hartford (9-4) at 6 tonight, while No. 6 Watertown travels to third-seeded Oneida for a 6 p.m. match.

Class B quarterfinal matchups include No. 6 Jordan-Elbridge (10-7) at third-seeded South Jefferson (13-3) at 6 p.m. in Adams. No. 9 Altmar-Parish-Williamstown (8-12) was eliminated Tuesday in a first-round game at No. 8 Sherburne-Earlville (8-9), which won, 3-2.

SECTION 3 BOYS SWIMMING

The Section 3 boys swimming championships begin this week with diving scheduled for Saturday. Class A will compete at Liverpool, while Classes B and C are at Mexico Academy.

The Class B swimming events will be 5 p.m. Wednesday at Rome Free Academy. Class A is set for 5 p.m. next Thursday at RFA, while Class C is 5:30 p.m. at New Hartford.

GORDON ON MOVE

Malone senior Conor Gordon, who won the Section 10 Class B cross country individual championship last fall, will attend NCAA Division II Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, in the fall.

Gordon finished 60th in Class B at the state cross country meet. He’s also the defending Section 10 outdoor champ in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

Sportswriter Leslie Sheldon covers Frontier League sports for the Times. She may be reached at lsheldon@wdt.net.Times sportswriter Cap Carey contributed to this report.

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