Another volleyball season is nearing its end. The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake varsity girls’ team is coming off another outstanding regular season full of wins, and is intent on making a playoff run like it has so many times before.
Just like normal? Not quite.
The Spartans “Fall II” season will end this week in the Suburban Council tournament, with no opportunity for advancement, and no chance for a state title bid that seven times in past years ended with a New York crown.
“We talked about how we can’t worry about not playing at certain places and not having states and sectionals,” Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said Saturday after his Spartans topped Galway in a non-league prep for the SC tournament. “We wanted to make the spring season the best it could be.”
The traditional fall season was absent of “high” risk sports like volleyball and football due to state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, but they gradually eased and opened the door for play in March and April in this first-of-its kind campaign.
No sectionals or state events will be held, though Section II championships are tentatively planned for the true spring sports teams that began practicing Sunday.
“I was worried about not playing my senior year,” said setter Claire Isaksen, who played an invaluable role during the 2019 season when Burnt Hills won that seventh state flag and tied a team record with 31 wins. “The fact that we got it and got to play, it’s incredible. Even when we played five games in six days, it wasn’t a bad thing. It was great.”
Burnt Hills was able to add a 33rd straight Suburban Council division title to its glossy resume during this abbreviated season and won all 17 of its matches without dropping a set. In a normal season, the Spartans would be among the Class A state-title favorites.
“They are,” Galway coach Mike Glenn said, “the best team in the state.”
Burnt Hills knew coming into the season that it wouldn’t get a chance to prove it, but as always, it did set goals, and has already achieved many of them.
“We definitely got better as the season progressed,” said Isaksen, who is joined by fellow 12th-graders Alex Ayers, Micaela Choi, Haileigh Deming and Ella Katz. “We were hoping to get closer as a team and get them ready for next year. It’s nice to see how the younger girls have improved.”
“We are trying to be the best team we can be,” Bynon said.
That’s why the veteran coach set up additional non-league matches with fellow Suburban Council members Shenendehowa and Niskayuna and also played Galway twice. Galway reached the state Class D semifinals in 2019 and, with its size and skill, was projected to again contend for a New York small-school championship before the 2000 fall season was eliminated.
“Without being able to travel, it’s awesome to play here and see where we are,” Bynon said Saturday. “Mike does a great job with his team, and it was a good tune-up for next week’s league tournament.”
Burnt Hills will be the No. 1 seed and host No. 8 Averill Park in a SC tournament quarterfinal game Tuesday. The semifinals and title match will be held Thursday and Friday.
“They deserve the opportunity,” Bynon said of his cast that includes star junior outside hitters Carlie Rzeszotarski and Callie Chevalier. “We are treating it like we would any other postseason.”
Thirteen times Burnt Hills has played on the last day of its volleyball season. Two wins this week will put Burnt Hills in that position again, and give the Spartans a crack at one more championship.
“We’re hoping to play on Friday,” Isaksen said. “We want to play as long as we can.”