Ben Rosenthal knew what he had coming back, but he also knew what he lost, so it was with both hope and some trepidation that he guided the Schenectady girls’ volleyball team into the “Fall II” season.
Now three weeks in, the Patriots’ fourth-year coach is more than pleased with what he’s seen.
“It’s nothing I’ve done. It’s what the girls have done,” Rosenthal said. “The kids have stepped up.”
Five wins in seven Suburban Council matches says the Patriots have, indeed, stepped up. They’ve already equaled the five league wins the 2019 team recorded with a lineup that included eight seniors who have since graduated. That 2019 edition won 11 matches overall in what marked a breakthrough campaign for a varsity team that managed just three victories combined in 2017 and 2018.
“I thought it was going to be kind of hard, but we came in and started playing and communicating, and it was, ‘We are a good team,’ ” Schenectady junior Gelmajony Marrero Martinez said.
After a prolonged gap in seasons due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Patriots are winning again with a new mix of leaders including Marrero Martinez and fellow team captain Savannah Petersen, as well and her senior classmates Marissa Gannon and Shannon McCloskey.
“We’ve definitely all stepped up. We have good energy. We challenge each other,” Marrero Martinez said. “All of the girls have done their part, and coach picks us up.”
Schenectady owns three-set wins over Averill Park, Troy, Bethlehem and Colonie and a four-setter against Guilderland. Its losses came against state power Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (3-0), and Saratoga Springs (3-2), just last Thursday.
“We’re losing that element of surprise,” Rosenthal said. “We’re not a guaranteed win any more. Teams are coming in and putting their starting lineups against us.”
Saratoga ended Schenectady’s 2019 season with a three-set sweep in a first-round match in the Section II Class AA tournament. Thursday’s match saw Saratoga record 26-24 wins in the final two sets to edge out the Patriots in five.
“When Saratoga beat us in three, we never stepped up,” Rosenthal said. “To go five with them and have it that close is definitely a positive. It’s a big improvement.”
Schenectady, which Rosenthal said is strong defensively yet is “struggling a bit on offense as far as being aggressive,” lists improvement among its primary season objectives as well as enough wins to earn one of the higher seeds in the league tournament.
“We’re still growing,” Rosenthal said. “We’re just going to get better as we play more. Every game is a learning opportunity.”
Schenectady’s remaining schedule begins Monday with a match against Niskayuna, which in 2019 ended Shenendehowa’s lengthy grip on the Section II Class AA title. Matches with Columbia, Shaker, Mohonasen, Albany, Ballston Spa and Shenendehowa are scheduled afterward.
“It’s hard going from not winning, not winning, not winning to, ‘Hey, we can win.’ It’s a big change from five, six years ago,” Rosenthal said. “We can be with the top teams. They’re starting to believe it and starting to play like it.”