IPFW-bound Smalter key piece to Frontier spikers’ run
Three years ago, a strong sophomore class of volleyball players at Frontier was well on its way to prosperous times for the school’s boys program. But the accomplishments of the past two seasons may not have ever been as impressive without the addition of Nick Smalter to that group.
After some recruiting from his club volleyball mates, Smalter transferred from St. Francis following his sophomore year to join the likes of Matt Taylor, Tom Scheck and Drew Durni at Frontier, and the group went on to lead the Falcons to consecutive Section VI Class A titles over two dominant seasons.
“I don’t regret the path I took at all. If I could do it over again, I would do it the same way,” Smalter said. “These guys are all great friends. I’m glad they pursued me. It all worked out in the end.”
That pursuit began as all four played for the Eden Mizuno Volleyball Club at the start of their high school careers. Frontier’s youngsters at the time knew they were onto some thing, but realized just how much bigger it could be if Smalter, a resident in the district, became part of it.
“It definitely helped when Nick came over here; there was a little recruiting from us that went on,” Taylor said. “Without Nick, the Eden Volleyball Club and our coach (Bill Faust), there’s no way we could have won two straight titles. We got a chance to play together in high school but also got to know each other playing club. It’s become an everyday thing for us. Now, we’ve all become best friends.”
In addition to surrounding himself with able teammates, Smalter created some attention on his own as a punishing 6-foot-5 outside hitter. His play yielded him a dream scholarship to play Division I volleyball. Smalter announced on Thursday (April 19) at Frontier that he’ll be play for and attend IPFW in Indiana.
“It was always my dream to play Division I and I thought it could be possible and now it’s worked out that way,” said Smalter, who has played club volleyball since the age of 15. “The last two years, I’ve made new friends, hopefully lifetime relationships and the team worked so hard to get where we went. I’m really proud of all we accomplished for ourselves and Frontier.”
Smalter’s biggest assets and those that could help him succeed at the next level may be his love for the game and mental toughness, according to Faust. Frontier’s coach also credited Smalter’s willingness to listen and learn and humble himself when matches and points don’t go always go his way.
“I think him taking his game to this next level is no surprise,” Faust said. “I think he’ll use his skills and mental toughness to make IFPW a better team. He practiced well and brought a good work ethic, as well as looking at his mistakes and getting better from them. That’s critical for a player looking to adapt to the challenges of playing college.”
Smalter will join on the IFPW men’s volleyball team fellow Frontier graduate Phil Peterson, who is completing his junior year. Faust said they enjoyed very similar success while at Frontier, both going down as two of the program’s best players.
The 6-foot-5 Taylor also signed his Letter of Intent that day, but not to play volleyball. Also a dominant presence on the hardwood during the winter after the volleyball season, he decided to play basketball, despite being a recruited setter. After leading Frontier to a 16-4 season averaging 17 points and eight rebounds as a forward, he signed with St. John Fisher in Rochester.
Of the other senior volleyball standouts, Scheck, who packs quite a bit of punch in his smaller 6-foot-2 frame, will be playing for Division III Medaille, while Durni, who like Taylor and Smalter were selected to the All-Western New York First Team, is still undecided.
Also signing Letter of Intents that day were honor roll student-athletes Kevin McGiveron to play football at Lock Haven and Emily Krasinksi to participate in track and field at Columbia University.
McGiveron, a two-year starting tight end and outside linebacker at Frontier who will play defense in college, was selected second team all-league and was named to the Kensington Lions Club Senior All-Star Game.
Krasinski, a middle and long distance runner, holds six records between outdoor and indoor track and field, including the 800 meters and 4x800 relay during both seasons.
Open Mike: Taylor never gives up on pursuing hoops dream
I had to look twice at the T-shirt Matt Taylor wore Thursday (April 19) at Frontier High School’s Letter of Intent signing day before realizing what sport he’d be playing at St. John Fisher College in Rochester.
The senior was a three-year varsity setter on consecutive sectional title winning volleyball teams in the fall at the school, before proceeding to enjoy a breakout season this winter as the Frontier basketball team’s steady big man during a surprising 16-4 season which ended in the sectional semifinals at Buffalo State College.
Taylor seemed a shoe-in as a college volleyball prospect for the past two years — an area coach said at one point Penn State had expressed interest, but the success of the basketball season made him think twice about his decision of not only where to play but also what to play at the next level.
When it came time to make a final decision, it turned out basketball was too strong of a pull for him to resist. He made that official as he dawned his “Fisher Basketball” apparel inside the gymnasium at Frontier.
“It really came down to the wire,” Taylor said Thursday. “This was the toughest decision of my life.”
Taylor may not be the first athlete recruited in more than one sport and he certainly won’t be the last, but the journey he took to becoming a college basketball prospect was unique.
Playing volleyball since the seventh grade, Taylor fit in perfectly in a group that dominated Western New York competitors over the past two years. He was the lanky 6-foot-4 setter, who’s athletic with great hands. His volleyball coach, Bill Faust, called him the team’s cool and calm presence; the leader that steadies the ship.
After high school volleyball ended this fall, Taylor, again a large part of Frontier’s continued success, seemed destined to continue on in the sport at the next level. But before that decision was to be made, he had a final season of basketball to play.
As a junior, he played a role as a forward but didn’t exactly stand out. As the 2011-12 basketball season neared, Frontier would be without most of its scoring from the year prior and in need of players to step into larger roles. Quietly, Taylor was ready to take that on.
He could have easily accepted that volleyball would be the best route to follow but basketball had always been his passion and playing the sport in college was a dream he wasn’t willing to give up on easily. As it turned out, Taylor was committed to basketball throughout the offseason before his senior year, participating in three summer leagues, in Hamburg and downtown Buffalo. It was then he started to believe his dream could still become a reality.
Taylor kept that momentum rolling into this winter. As Frontier’s primary big man, who could score in the post or step outside to sink a shot, he averaged a team-leading 17 points, in addition to eight rebounds. Also a consummate leader, he was the guiding force behind one of the biggest surprises of the WNY season. And wouldn’t you know it, coaches did come calling for his basketball prowess.
Attending St. John Fisher also became a better fit for Taylor, who will join Frontier graduates Jason Norsen and Grant Wrap as part of the college’s basketball team next year.
“I have no bitterness about his choice to play basketball over volleyball. He’s done a tremendous job for our volleyball program,” Faust said. ‘I’m just glad that another program will reap the benefits of having a guy like Matt Taylor on their team.”
While his decision may have been a surprise to those watching from the outside, Taylor apparently had an inkling all along.