It wasn’t a good day for the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ lacrosse team.
“It’s so vivid. When I think about it, my stomach drops,” Spartans goalkeeper Lexie Ball said of last season’s 12-8 loss to Queensbury in the Section II Class B semifinals. “I remember standing in the circle and thinking, ‘My season is over.’ ”
With that setback on a field tucked away in a far corner of the Queensbury facility, Burnt Hills’ hope to play in a fifth straight title game was gone. Afterward, the Spartans took a slow walk to their bus, some looking stunned, maybe thinking it was all just a bad dream.
“Every day I think about it,” BH-BL midfielder Carly Grant said. “I think about what I did and didn’t do and about what the team did and didn’t do. It’s been preseason since the first day after that.”
On Saturday, the Spartans played together in a game setting for the first time since their second-half comeback at Queensbury fell short, in a home scrimmage against Scotia-Glenville, Guilderland and Rush-Henrietta, from Rochester.
“It was fun to see everyone back on the field,” BH-BL attacker Taylor Safford said. “It was good.”
Great could come later. The Spartans have nine returning seniors, including a pair of All-Americans in Ball and Haley Schultz, while Safford — who scored 41 goals last spring while playing with a torn ACL — leads a strong underclassmen group.
Defending Class B champ Niskayuna and Queensbury have impact players back, too, but Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, in its 10th anniversary season, features more.
“No matter how much talent you have or what you’ve done in the past, every year is new,” Burnt Hills coach Jake McHerron said. “You have to build from the bottom and continue to get better. It’s still March. We want to play our best lacrosse in May. They know it’s a journey.”
The trail took the Spartans to sectional championships in 2014 and 2013, and before that in 2011, the year Ball, then a seventh-grader, was called up late from the junior varsity.
“This is the most talented group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” the Louisville-bound Ball said. “We’ve grown so much as a program. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
Ball wants to see something she said was missing in last year’s semifinal.
“We need to have a little more edge to us,” she said. “We walked in thinking, ‘We’re Burnt Hills. We’ve been here before.’ It didn’t happen.”
The hurt hasn’t gone away.
“Nothing is ever given to you,” McHerron said. “It’s eaten away at some of these kids.”
Before last year, Burnt Hills’ last sectional loss was against Queensbury in the 2012 title game. Burnt Hills won six straight playoff games after that, including title-game wins over Queensbury in 2013 and Niskayuna in 2014.
“We’re building for a sectional championship,” Ball said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to get knocked down. Now we’re hungry again.”
McHerron likes the rhetoric he’s hearing. He likes results even more.
“You can have a great team on paper, but it’s all about what you do on the field,” the Spartan’s eighth-year coach said. “You’ve got to play the game.”
Niskayuna and Troy moving from Class A to Class AA, and a flip-flop with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Amsterdam are part of the new look for Section II’s 2016 football season.
Niskayuna, which played as a Class A independent the last two seasons, is joining the Class AA Empire Division. Troy, a former member of the Class A Southeast Division, is joining the Class AA Liberty Division.
Burnt Hills is making a switch from the Class A Northwest Division to the Class A Southeast, and Amsterdam is going from the Southeast to the Northwest. Lansingburgh has joined the Southeast after competing in the Class B Reinfurt Division in 2015.
Bishop Maginn will not be fielding a team due to low player numbers, while Fort Edward/Argyle, which sat out 2015 with its own numbers issue, has rejoined the Class D league.
The Class D group will also include Schoburg, which includes players from Schoharie and Duanesburg. Those schools mixed with Berne-Knox-Westerlo to compete in the Class C South Division last year.
Watervliet is moving from the Class C Central Division to the South.
In Class B, the West Division has been renamed the North Division. Cohoes is moving from the Class B Reinfurt Division to the North. Cobleskill-Richmondville is moving from what was the West to the Reinfurt.
The Section II season begins Sept. 2-3. Some first-week games of note are Shenendehowa at Troy, Niskayuna at Guilderland, Burnt Hills at Amsterdam, Schalmont at Schuylerville in Class B, Hoosick Falls at Greenwich in Class C, and Cambridge at Rensselaer in Class D.
2016 Section II leagues
Empire Division: Albany, Ballston Spa, Christian Brothers Academy, Guilderland, Niskayuna, Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa.
Liberty Division: Bethlehem, Colonie, Columbia, LaSalle, Schenectady, Shaker, Troy.
Northwest Division: Amsterdam, Gloversville, Queensbury, Scotia-Glenville, South Glens Falls.
Southeast Division: Averill Park, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Green Tech, Lansingburgh, Mohonasen.
North Division: Broadalbin-Perth, Cohoes, Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, Johnstown, Schuylerville.
Reinfurt Division: Albany Academy, Cobleskill-Richmondville, Hudson, Ichabod Crane, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, Schalmont.
North Division: Corinth, Granville, Greenwich, Hoosick Falls, Hoosic Valley, Lake George/Hadley-Luzerne.
Central Division: Holy Trinity, Mechanicville, Stillwater, Tamarac, Voorheesville.
South Division: Cairo-Durham, Chatham, Coxsackie-Athens, Fonda-Fultonville, Taconic Hills, Watervliet.
Cambridge, Canajoharie, Fort Edward/Argyle, Rensselaer, Salem, Schoburg, Warrensburg, Whitehall.
Ken Sullivan is stepping away from Canajoharie’s football program after 19 years, including 17 as the Cougars’ head varsity coach.
Sullivan took over a team that had lost 18 consecutive games and led Canajoharie to a 69-69 record. His 2007 edition won the Class D league title and finished 9-1 after a Section II title-game loss to Fort Edward. His 2006 squad won the Class C South Division title and finished 7-2 after a sectional semifinal setback against Hoosick Falls.
Canajoharie went 5-4 this past season, losing to Cambridge in the Class D semifinals.
Following its second Federation tournament championship in four years, Albany Academy (18-4) is ranked No. 1 among boys’ Class A schools on the final New York State Sportswriters Association poll.
New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinalists Shenendehowa (24-1) and Hudson (26-1) are ranked No. 3 in Class AA and No. 5 in Class B, respectively, and NYSPHSAA finalist Troy (20-6) is No. 9 in Class A.
On the girls’ side, NYSPHSAA Class AA finalist Shenendehowa (23-3) is No. 4.