GLENS FALLS — The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team spent the weekend accomplishing things it hadn’t in some time.
On Saturday, there was a successful showing in the state semifinals. Sunday, the Section II Class A champion returned to the highest level.
With a sweep of hard-hitting West Irondequoit, the Spartans captured their seventh state title and first since the fall of 2015. On the last day of each of the last three seasons, they never got a chance to add another championship banner to their high school’s gym wall where so many hang.
“I’ve been playing volleyball for 10 years,” Burnt Hills senior hitter Hannah Shell said after her team’s 25-17, 26-24, 25-22 victory at Cool Insuring Arena. “This is the last time wearing this jersey. I wanted to walk out of here happy, and I will.”
The Spartans were derailed in their state title quest in the semifinal pool play round in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In the six years before that, the Spartans had played for a New York flag each time and snared three of them.
“Last year was really hard because we knew we could have played better,” junior setter Claire Isaksen said of the Spartans 2-4 record in the pool play semifinals. “I think we’re all happy with our performance today and yesterday.”
Burnt Hills took two sets from West Irondequoit Saturday while going 4-2 before completing a weekend sweep of the Eagles from Section V.
“After last year, that provided us with a lot of motivation,” said Burnt Hills sophomore hitter Carlie Rzeszotarski, the Class A tournament most valuable player. “We didn’t want to feel that again. This is a completely different feeling.”
Sunday’s match had a different feel, too, after Burnt Hills survived the second set that was close from start to finish. It included four lead changes and 10 ties, the last of them at 20, 22, 23 and 24.
“That was such a grind,” Shell said. “We knew we had to win the second set. We had to find a couple of points there.”
Rzeszotarski gave Burnt Hills a 25-24 edge with one of her 19 kills, and Burnt Hills got the last point when West Irondequoit couldn’t set up a return and the ball fell to the court.
“That’s the one we needed,” West Irondequoit coach Marc Callari said of the second set. “We would have had momentum. Instead of it being 0-2, it would have been 1-1, and it comes down to the best of three.”
“After the second set, Coach was yelling, ‘We just need one more,'” said Isaksen, whose sister Kate was a member of the 2015 title team. “At the beginning, he always says we need 75 points. After the first [set] it was 50. After the second it was 25.”
Jashawna Luke had six of her 16 kills late in the second set to lead West Irondequoit.
“We didn’t get flustered,” Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said. “We went out and did our thing.”
“West Irondequoit is an amazing team,” said Rzeszotarski, whose stat line included three aces and 13 defensive digs. “We knew nothing was going to be handed to us. We knew there would be some bumps to get over. Coming out and winning that set kept our momentum, and we took it all.”
A 7-1 run in the third set gave Burnt Hills a 12-7 advantage. West Irondequoit got within 16-15 on a kill by Luke, but couldn’t wrestle the lead away from the Spartans. Callie Chevalier finished the match with a kill.
“We didn’t allow them to make runs on us,” Bynon said. “We passed so well. If we pass, we’re tough to stop.”
Burnt Hills was in control for much of the first set, and a 6-2 run that included two kills and an ace from Rzeszotarski gave the Spartans a 20-11 advantage.
“They were ready to go this weekend,” Bynon said.
“We just had so much intensity,” said Shell, whose dad, Burnt Hills football coach Matt Shell, led his team to a state title in 2012. “We were not nervous. We knew what we had to do. We were ready to go.”,
Hannah Shell, an all-tournament selection who had nine kills and 13 digs in Sunday’s final, was an eighth-grade reserve on the 2015 team that swept Walter Panas for the state title and set a program record with 31 wins. This year’s edition matched those 31 wins.
“I wanted something on the gym wall that I could look at and say, ‘Yeah, that’s my team,'” Shell said.
Isaksen collected 37 assists while making the all-tournament team, Sofia Pawlusik had 20 digs, Kiera Hartpence had nine digs, and Morgan Bohlke finished with six of Burnt Hills’ 42 kills.
“We’d start to go on mini runs and they stopped us,” Callari said. “They answered when they needed it.”
West Irondequoit had all-tournament selections in Drew Kemp (12 kills, 18 digs) and Emma Sheehan (19 assists, 12 digs).
Burnt Hills tied the state record by winning its 18th consecutive regional championship this season.