Lakeside Beachbums eye Junior Olympics volleyball tile

The Lakeside Beachbums 16-and-under boys' volleyball team reaches the Junior Olympic Championships b
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Perhaps at some point, the Lakeside Beachbums will no longer be able to sneak up on people.

Even the name of the Burnt Hills-based 16-and-under volleyball club suggests a slacker’s desire to stay off the radar screen.

Underestimate them at your own peril.

Fifth-seeded Lakeside won the Boys’ East Coast Championship (BECC) tournament on Memorial Day to qualify for the Junior Olympic Championships against 35 of the best clubs in the country on July 2-7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The teams they’ve faced and will face are bigger and stronger, and they’ve culled talent from a var­iety of school districts to form what amount to all-star rosters for the regional and national events.

Lakeside, though, is made up of nine boys from the successful Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School varsity and one player from Col­onie. That which appears to be a disadvantage, they consider a strength, because the Beachbums have something the other teams don’t always have, cohesion built through years of playing together.

“It’s a huge benefit because we’re around each other four out of seven days of the week, and we see each other all the time,” said Burnt Hills freshman Jordan Armstrong, Lakeside’s setter. “It’s not like other teams who see each other once a week when they practice. Against some of these teams, you can see the egos get in the way. That’s one thing we don’t have. We pick each other up.”

The Beachbums have been here before, finishing ninth overall and taking the gold medal in the bronze division at the 15U JO nationals in Atlanta last year.

The Burnt Hills players on Lakeside have been to the New York State Class A regionals, where the Spartans finished first this year and compiled a school record for wins in a 34-1 season.

So experience in big events won’t be an issue.

“That is very big,” coach Melissa Armstrong said. “They’re not as nervous. I had never been to such a big tournament. We all heard

rumors that the teams were so big, which they are, but we know what to expect.”

Armstrong, Jordan’s mother and the Burnt Hills girls’ junior varsity coach during the fall, has also gone out of her way to schedule matches against older players this year to get the Beachbums as tactically sharp as they can be, which they’ll need when they face teams that have

obvious physical advantages.

Lakeside doesn’t expect to overpower anyone, but if they can work the ball to the right spots through guile and precision, they can play with anyone.

The key player is Jordan Armstrong, through whom most points funnel as the set-up man.

“The first thing is where the pass is going from the defense,” he said. “The ball comes to me like a magnet, and I have to see where the other team has a blocking advantage. Within a second or less, I have to decide where to go with it.

“Playing against older men helped a lot, because you want to go out and just hammer it, but we had to shape our cuts and tips. It made us a better defensive team. Where’s the open spot? It raised our volleyball knowledge, instead of just whaling at it.”

“We definitely are a defensive-oriented team,” Melissa Armstrong said. “Everything starts with a pass. If it’s accurate, then the setter can set any tempo we need, considering what the defense on the other side is showing.”

Lakeside reached the JO nationals by winning the gold division at the BECC in Richmond, Va. This was the fourth year in a row at the BECC for the Beachbums, who won the 14U division in 2006.

This time, the Beachbums had to get through teams like the Rochester Pace Bootleggers, considered the class of the clubs in New York; the strong hometown team, Richmond Volleyball Club (RVC); and MVP Black from Maryland.

After two days of competition, Lakeside found itself in the gold

division bracket, facing MVP Black in a double-elimination format.

OVERCAME SETBACK

The Beachbums lost, 28-26, 20-25, 13-15, sending them into what promised to be a difficult loser’s bracket and a potential match against the top seed, Rochester Pace, which had lost to No. 2 RVC. To get to the championship match, Lakeside needed to win three matches in three hours.

After beating North Virginia Volleyball Association, Lakeside got past Rochester Pace, 25-19, 25-20.

“We went into the third day and lost the first match, so we were down on ourselves, but then we really started playing together, and we won the next three in loser’s bracket,” outside hitter Mike Pellitier said.

“We played Maryland [MVP Black] at that point and were so focused, we wound up annihilating that team,” Jordan Armstrong said. “It was probably one of best we ever played. We thought, ‘How can we top that?’ and it turned out we did.”

Lakeside did so by beating RVC, which the Beachbums had had no success against all season, in two games, 25-19, 25-21, then winning a superfinal, 25-22.

“All their fans were there, and we had our nine kids, two coaches, seven players from our 16-2 team, and we were louder,” Armstrong said.

The victory gives Lakeside all the momentum it could hope for heading into the JO nationals.

The rest of the team includes Matthew Bynon, Tyler Slocum, Michael Coniglione, Derek Britton, Eric Sandman, Michael Fischer and Alex Houghtahlen from Burnt Hills, and Carlin Dwyer from Colonie.

“Last year we were ninth, and we’re hoping to do better this year, which we will if we play like we did the last few games of the East Coast Championships,” Pellitier said.

“I think we’re playing the best we have been in a long time,” Jordan Armstrong said. “We’re all on the same page, we’re focused, we’re ready. Last year, no one knew anything about us, we were seeded in the middle of the pack, and they found out that we could cause damage. I like being kind of an underdog.”

“It’s the one thing we have that they don’t,” Melissa Armstrong said. “My son talked to a friend in Cal­ifornia and asked which teams were strong, and he told him that these teams were good, but had no chemistry. My boys have been playing together since they were 10, 11.

“It really doesn’t matter where we’re seeded. We like to be in a quiet corner. We’d rather come on the court and have the other team say, ‘Yeah, look at that little team, they’re tiny.’ We’d rather they wonder where we came from than say, ‘Here they come.’ ”

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