BURNT HILLS — The players on the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team weren’t the only ones motivated by last November’s unsuccessful showing in the Class A state final four at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
The Spartans went 2-4 in pool play, and for the third year in a row didn’t advance and get a chance to add to the program’s total of six state championships.
“We played 305 days of great volleyball, and when you have a day like we did, it drives you,” veteran Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said. “It made me put together the schedule we did.”
It was a very ambitious schedule, including a two-day tournament in Chicago, another in Syracuse and two tournaments that Burnt Hills hosted with some of the state’s traditional powers.
“We played four top-100 teams in the country and some others that are right there,” Bynon said. “We traveled to all corners. We tried to put them in conflict at least once a week this fall. We want to go to Glens Falls and not see anything we haven’t seen before.”
Burnt Hills (30-5) will compete in its 18th consecutive final four Saturday after sweeping Gloversville and Queensbury for the Section II title and then doing the same against regional opponents Massena and Jamesville-DeWitt.
“This season was more of a grind,” said senior Hannah Shell, who was on Burnt Hills’ last state title team in 2015. “It’s been a long season and we’d like to end it on a high.”
Bynon thought last season might end that way, but the Spartans never got a chance to play on the final Sunday after splitting two pool sets with Wantagh and Niagara-Wheatfield before losing two to Cornwall.
“A lot of us remember last year,” Bynon said. “We didn’t play really great when we needed to.”
“It’s a long day and you have to play well,” Shell said of the pool play semifinals. “There’s sitting and waiting, and you have to be on mentally.”
Burnt Hills will compete in Saturday’s morning pool session that begins at 8:30 a.m. along with Section II representatives Lake George (Class C) and Galway (Class D). Broadalbin-Perth (Class B) will see action in the afternoon pool session that begins at 3 p.m.
Burnt Hills has a match with Hendrick Hudson at 9:30 a.m., and will take on West Irondequoit immediately after. Following two matches, Burnt Hills will play its last against South Side. The top two teams will advance to Sunday’s Class A title match at 10 a.m.
“Coming together as a team and playing our game are things we have to do,” Burnt Hills senior Sofia Pawlusik said of Saturday’s pool session. “We know what it takes. We have to play our game.”
“The first couple of hours will go a long way,” Bynon said. “Wins are tough to get, but I believe in these kids and what they can do. The key is to serve tough, pass well and get the ball to Claire [Isaksen] so she can distribute.”
Isaksen had 34 assists when Burnt Hills beat Jamesville-Dewitt 25-16, 25-9, 25-12. Carlie Rzeszotarski had 11 kills, Shell contributed seven kills and four aces, and Pawlusik finished with 15 defensive digs.
“We’ve got a great group of girls,” Pawlusik said. “If someone is off, we’ll need someone else to step up.”
Bynon has a deep team and said he won’t hesitate to make a personnel switch as the Spartans strive for points and victories Saturday. Before coming up short of those things in each of the last three years, Burnt Hills had made it to the state championship match six straight times and won titles in 2011 and 2012 as well in 2015.
“We’ve been there a lot,” Shell said. “We’d love to leave there happy.”