CLIFTON PARK — Bennett Wilson was right in the middle of a Shenendehowa hitting display Thursday which included a kill to finish off the second set in what would be a Suburban Council boys’ volleyball sweep of Niskayuna.
Wilson is unlike the others on Shenendehowa’s front-line cast, though, and different from the rest of the Plainsmen, too.
“The running joke is how I skipped the ladder and took the stairs instead,” Wilson said of his status as Shenendehowa’s only freshman.
He’s not just the lone ninth-grader on this season’s “Fall II” varsity team, but the first ninth-grader to play for 10-year Plainsmen coach John Coletta.
“He hits the ball at the varsity level, and the other parts will come,” Coletta said of his elevating the 6-foot-1 Wilson to his roster. “His passing will get there. His serving will get there.”
Wilson only began playing volleyball as a seventh-grader, and competed for Shenendehowa’s modified team during the fall 2018 and 2019 seasons. The outside hitter thought he would be scoring points for the Plainsmen’s junior varsity team this season.
“I practiced with the JV during the [Capital Sliders] club season,” Wilson said. “And when we all tried out [at the start of the Fall II season], I thought that’s where I would be.”
Wilson believes volleyball being put on hold last fall by state authorities because of COVID-19 concerns aided his rapid climb to the varsity level.
“If we had a normal season in the fall, I don’t know if I would have made it,” the 15-year-old said. “The extra time helped me as a player. I had a lot of time to learn and grow. I tried to go out every day and worked as hard as I could.”
Still, Wilson said he was a bit surprised when Coletta said he would be joining a team that won the last five Section II Division I championships and reached the state final four in 2019.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to think. I was overwhelmed with joy,” Wilson said. “At first, I never thought it would happen.”
Wilson feels welcomed despite the age gap between himself and the other players, eight of them seniors.
“The guys are super accepting,” Wilson said. “They treat me awesome, and it’s awesome to play with these guys.”
While Wilson does not start, he has earned a spot in Shenendehowa’s regular rotation. With a recent leg injury sustained by big hitter Tyler Christensen, he has become even more valuable to the Plainsmen.
“That’s quite a compliment for a freshman to make a [varsity] team at Shenendehowa and play,” Niskayuna coach Ryan O’Connell said. “He gave us a lot of trouble with his hitting.”
Wilson collected 10 kills Thursday, half of them coming in a 25-15 first-set win. Before he capped the 25-15 set-two win with a blast to the hardwood, he contributed two kills and a block in an 11-1 run that had boosted the Plainsmen’s lead to 19-9.
“The sets I got were amazing, and I tried to follow through,” Wilson said.
“He is becoming more confident, and he’s becoming more aggressive with his hitting,” Coletta said.
Wilson had 12 kills when Shenendehowa (6-1) sustained its only loss in four sets against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
“Today and Burnt Hills were my highlight games,” Wilson said.
Chris Bae also had 10 kills for Shenendehowa Thursday, and Will Licata and Greg Sharma both finished with seven kills. Ryan Connors had 21 assists, Kyle Osborne had 14 assists and Nicholas Barrese had 19 defensive digs.
“They have some really great hitters,” O’Connell said of the Plainsmen. “I thought we did a great job on serve receive and I’m happy with our serving, and although we had some nice blocks, but it’s hard to stop their hitters.”
The third set was tied at 17 before Shenendehowa forged a 25-19 win. Cade Bernardi served two aces, and Bae had four kills to help push the Plainsmen over the top.
“They competed and scored points,” Coletta said of Niskayuna.
Niskayuna (3-5) is a team showing progress after failing to win a game in 2018 and prevailing twice in 2019. Josh Cutting has six kills Thursday, and Ethan Hunt had 10 assists.
“If we had the kind of effort we had today, all around, maybe we could have stolen a couple more sets in our other matches,” O’Connell said.
Set scores: 25-15, 25-15, 25-19. Niskayuna highlights: Cutting, 6 kills; Hunt 10, assists; Stabler, 5 digs; Tandlmayer, 4 blocks. Shenendehowa highlights: Wilson, 10 kills; Bae, 10 kills; Licata, 7 kills; Sharma, 7 kills; Connors, 21 assists; Osborne, 1 assists; Barrese, 19 digs.