BURNT HILLS — The Niskayuna boys’ volleyball season ended at the hands of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in three sets Monday night, but the chance simply to play left smiles on the faces of the Silver Warriors.
Niskayuna had its final four regular-season contests canceled after the team had to quarantine from April 13 through last Friday due to a novel coronavirus exposure the team experienced during an away contest. Monday’s Suburban Council tournament quarterfinal was its first competition since April 12, a 3-0 loss at Saratoga Springs, and the Spartans eliminated the Silver Warriors with a 25-9, 25-16, 25-17 win.
“We came today, we played our hearts out and we played amazing,” Niskayuna junior outside hitter Laith Chowdhrey said. “It really meant a lot to just play with all our seniors one more time and to just have one more game in the season. It meant everything.”
The 10-day quarantine and loss of four matches came at a point when the Silver Warriors were playing some of their best volleyball.
“That was our ninth game of the season and that was the best game we’ve played up to that point,” Niskayuna coach Ryan O’Connell said. “We lost the third set 31-29; we were right there all the way through.”
The next day, O’Connell was looking to build on that final set with his Silver Warriors when he received a text message about the team’s need to quarantine. The news hit him hard that day, and the coach paused Monday when remembering the initial notification and subsequent reaction by his team.
The team, though, kept working.
“When we were in quarantine, we did virtual workouts every single day. We watched a lot of game film and the kids were amazing,” O’Connell said. “I mean, that’s a group of guys there that are just extremely passionate. These are the seniors that I started [coaching] with, and they’re just an amazing group of guys and their leadership is just unbelievable.”
“I just told the guys that we got to have the same amount of energy out of practice [in quarantine] as we do in practice and we’ve got to grind it out,” Niskayuna senior co-captain Ethan Hunt said. “When we came back, it was like nothing had changed. We fought hard to come back, had this game and we fought hard, and so I’m proud of them.”
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s Kevin Cullen and Ben Pearce each had seven kills in the quarterfinal win, while Aidan Calhoun offered up 25 assists on the afternoon. Spartans coach Paul Sander said he’d take the postseason win, but expects more in the next round.
“I thought our serving was outstanding and we blocked well and so forth,” said Sander, whose third-seeded team will play Wednesday in the semifinals against No. 2 Bethlehem.
For the Silver Warriors, Monday’s loss was not without its lessons.
“I mean, it sounds kind of corny, but never give up and always expect the unexpected,” Hunt said. “When the unexpected comes, just never give up, keep grinding through whatever barriers are in your way.”
Burnt Hills improved to 11-3 with the win, while Niskayuna fell to 3-7.
Set scores: 25-9, 25-16, 25-17. Niskayuna highlights: Hunt, 15 assists; Chowdhrey, 6 kills. Burnt Hills highlights: Calhoun, 25 assists; Knight, 12 digs; Pearce, 7 kills, 8 digs; Cullen, 7 kills, 8 digs; Sweet, 12 digs.