Natalie Ziskin is in a set position — knees bent and poised to feed a teammate — when across the net she sees a seam in the Niskayuna defense.
With a quick flick of the wrists, she finds the open spot, the ball drops, and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake has another point as part of Tuesday’s Suburban Council sweep.
“She knows when to make her shots,” Burnt Hills-Ballson Lake volleyball coach Gary Bynon said of his team captain. “She’s so smart out there. This game is so much about momentum, and I can’t tell you how many times she’s swung it our way with one of those dump shots.”
Ziskin’s ability to set the ball, though, has so often helped Burnt Hills keep that momentum for extended stretches.
While she can certainly score points, serve, block and dig on defense, setting the ball is what makes the 17-year-old Ziskin special.
She started quarterbacking teams while in third grade, joined the Lakeside Volleyball Club a year later and began to blossom, and today is counted among New York state’s finest players in a role that demands agility, ball skills, a keen court awareness, communication and fast decision making.
“My job is to run the quickest offense I possibly can,” said the 5-foot-7 Ziskin. “Since we’re smaller this year, it’s very important to be successful with my job. I just try to do all the little things that will make us as good as we can be.”
Since Ziskin was elevated to a starting position in BH-BL’s lineup as a freshman, the Spartans have continued to be successful, not only winning three straight Suburban Council division championships, but also three consecutive Section II and regional Class A titles, as well, while placing third in the state twice and second last year.
Bynon thought so highly of Ziskin’s athletic gifts that he shifted standout senior Laura Falkowitz from setter to libero to make room in the starting lineup for his budding star.
“I knew Nat could handle it. It was time for her to start running the show,” said Bynon.
“Eighth grade was a big learning year for me. In my second year, coach made the switch,” said Ziskin. “It was a real cool thing. I was honored to have the opportunity at such a young age.”
With the veteran setter and her teammates jelling, the Spartans are off to another strong start, showing 4-0 league and 7-0 overall records.
“Volleyball is a big team sport. One of the biggest out there. No one can do it alone,” said the modest Ziskin. “If there’s no defense, you can’t get the ball and run an offense. Everyone needs to do their job and do it well for a team to be successful.”
Burnt Hills’ defensive work and hitting prowess at the net has led to great individual achievement for Ziskin, who, with 16 assists in Thursday’s win over Bethlehem, increased her school record in that category to 2,748. Ziskin amassed 760 assists last year, 729 as a sophomore and 934 in her first season as a varsity starter.
“I don’t think about it. It’s just a number,” said the two-time Suburban Council first team all-star. “That’s not on my mind at all when I’m playing. I’m thinking about running the court the best I can. Thinking about all the plays we can run and the little tricks that will help us score points.”
Ziskin had a hand in a bunch of them this past week to aid in two big victories. She collected 20 assists and eight kills when the Spartans beat reigning state Class AA champ Baldwinsville in three games in the BH-BL tournament final, and piled up 27 assists and five aces when they swept Niskayuna for the program’s 300th straight league triumph.
“Our offensive flow has been very good,” said Ziskin. “I’ve played with some of these girls for years, and we click. We grew up together. It sounds cliche, but we really are a family. We have each others’ backs on and off the court.”
Ziskin only knows one speed, and that’s full throttle, whether she’s on the court, cramming for a calculus test, practicing the saxaphone or instructing youngsters in the Lakeside Junior Digger program, where as a third-grader her own career was launched.
“Volleyball is the second thing we preach here. We talk a lot about being a member of the school community, doing things for others and taking care of academics,” Bynon said. “Nat does all of that to the highest degree. She’s a true role model for a student-athlete. And when you think there’s nothing else she can do, she does more.”
“I get a lot of encouragement and support, and it helps me keep going. It’s great,” said Ziskin. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am to all the people, especially my parents and sister, for being 100 percent behind me in everything I do. It’s beyond words.”
Ziskin is a reciprocator, in terms of support. She serves as a volunteer instructor with the toddlers at Parson’s Early Head Start in Schenectady.
“I love helping kids,” she said. “I’m leaning toward a major in psychology or pre-med, but whatever path I end up taking, I want to work with kids.”
“She ran one of our seventh- and eighth-grade teams at summer camp, and she was great at it. She’s great with our junior diggers,” said Bynon. “She’s someone you want to put in charge of something. You know it will be taken care of to the best of her ability.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: High School Sports