AMHERST - To the Falconer Lady Golden Falcons and their coach, Darin Kennedy, Eden might as well be Mount Everest, or the Matterhorn, or possibly some terrible amalgamation of the two.
To be fair, however, the Lady Raiders, winners of three straight state titles and six in the past decade, look that way to just about every volleyball squad in the Empire State.
They are, put simply, an almost insurmountable obstacle in any team's quest - should they be unlucky enough to find themselves in the same class - to win a state championship.
Falconer’s Kalyn Swanson sets the ball during Wednesday’s Section 6 Class C championship match against Eden. The Lady Golden Falcons fell in three games. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
by Rob Tucker
"I've been to (the Section 6) title match 13 times in 17 years," Kennedy said following his squad's latest defeat in straight sets to the perennial powerhouse on Wednesday evening, "and I've lost to Eden 11 times. I've never beaten them. The year we won it (2010), (Eden) was in the Class B, so we were able to win the section and states, but even then we won on the court right next to Eden as they were winning (another state title).
"So it just is what it is."
And despite showcasing that never-say-die attitude that prompted Kennedy to call his squad "Believers" just a few short weeks ago, the Lady Raiders were, once again, too much for Falconer (14-6), taking the Class C championship match by scores of 25-11, 25-13 and 25-15 to capture their 14th straight Section 6 title in the gym at Sweet Home High School.
It marked the second time in as many seasons that Eden, now 28-9 overall, has ended Falconer's playoff run in the sectional title game.
"We lost in the same place last year; same result," Kennedy said. "(Eden) has kids that play Junior Olympic volleyball year round, that train together at the Buffalo-Niagara Center Courts and this is the result. They work hard at it, they run a good program and this is what they're all about."
With the serve one of their primary strengths, not to mention a front-line height that boasts a trio of powerful 5-foot-10 athletes, Eden was able to take early leads and build on them throughout each game, forcing the Lady Golden Falcons to scramble and adjust on the fly instead of allowing them to get into system.
Kayley Ballov was the first to serve in game one and promptly delivered a pair of aces. Later, when Falconer managed to serve-receive, Eden's top hitter, Heather Holscher, came through with three straight kills on the way to building a hefty 20-8 advantage.
From there, Ballov stepped to the service line once again and with three aces, a block and a kill secured the game-one victory.
"It was their serving," Kennedy explained. "It was exactly what we knew they were going to do. They just serve, serve, serve, serve to keep you out of system. We didn't handle their serve, we couldn't pass and because of that our best attacker (Shannon Gunnell, seven kills) got nine swings all game."
In game two it was Holscher's power game that really shone through as she connected for six kills (she would finish with 13 for the game) to help the Lady Raiders get out to a quick 10-1 lead, which soon became a 22-12 advantage and a 25-13 victory.
"They find the weak links and then just outserve to where we couldn't get into any system to attack," Kennedy said. "When you can't get into system, this is what happens. They out-attacked the serve, and while we're scrambling they're always in system."
Still refusing to give in, however, Falconer played its best with the match on the line. Despite falling behind early, 9-4, a dual block by Kalee Haladay and Danni Hannon, and an ace by Gunnell, pulled the group to within three. Later, they would pull to within five, 19-14, behind the serving of Hannon and Emily Simmons, but Eden managed to halt the comeback there and proceeded to record seven of the next nine points to clinch the title.
"They hustled," Kennedy said of his Lady Golden Falcons. "They gave me all they had, we just didn't have enough firepower. Their heart and their hustle kept them in it, but that only gets you so far before you run up against a team like this."
NOTES: Along with Gunnell's team-high seven kills, Haladay had a pair of blocks and Makalia Haveron 13 digs.