SCHENECTADY — Ella Blesi played a key role in the success Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s basketball team had at Schenectady Friday night with her high volume of steals and assists.
Her Spartans teammate, Carlie Rzeszotarski, ended the first half with a layup and added four more of them early in the third quarter to help the Spartans pull away in what was a 38-point win.
Not too bad for a couple of youngsters who are better known for their exploits in other sports.
“They’re athletes,” Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said of Blesi, Rzeszotarski and his other three starters. “They love to compete.”
Burnt Hills is competing — and winning — with a unique lineup that consists of five multi-sport athletes that starts for Bynon who is one of the most successful girls’ volleyball coaches in state history. Only one of those five starters — Grace O’Connor — counts basketball as her primary sport.
“We just want to win,” O’Connor, a junior, said after netting a game-high 16 points in her team’s 63-25 Suburban Council victory at the Pat Riley Sports Center. “It doesn’t matter what the sport is.”
O’Connor also plays lacrosse, as does fellow starter MK Lescault — who has committed to Johns Hopkins to play that sport — and Blesi. Along with Blesi, Lescault plays soccer, too. Also in the starting lineup are volleyball standouts Rzeszotarski — who is committed to play that sport at Colgate — and Callie Chevalier, seniors that led the Spartans to their eighth state championship in that sport during the fall campaign — and the next star volleyball player at the school could be Sarah Robbins, a freshman who came off the bench Friday and contributed five points and eight rebounds.
“You never see it anywhere else,” Blesi, a junior, said of the Spartans’ mix of multi-sport athletes that includes reserves, as well. “It’s more of a cultural thing. Students want to play.”
“It’s more fun to play than not play,” O’Connor added.
Burnt Hills students, Bynon said, are encouraged to compete in more than one sport.
“The coaching staff and the phys. ed staff work together. We want kids to participate and we promote that. We’ve created an atmosphere where it’s OK to play multiple sports,” said Bynon, who has led the girls’ volleyball team to all eight of its New York crowns and also has a boys’ Section II basketball title on his coaching resume. “We’re [one of the smaller schools] in the league, so it’s great for our school district and it’s good for kids.”
Veteran Schenectady girls’ basketball coach Carol Lupo has seen the Burnt Hills athletic program rise over the years to where it is currently among the most successful in Section II.
“Burnt Hills does a really good job to make their athletics a priority. Things have turned around for them,” Lupo said. “They’ve developed a mindset of having athleticism in their programs.”
The Burnt Hills girls’ basketball team used its athleticism and superior size to wear down Schenectady. O’Connor’s 11 points helped the Spartans build a 25-10 halftime lead before Rzeszotrski and Blesi sparked a put-away third quarter.
“Not everyone’s No. 1 sport is basketball, but we are all athletic,” O’Connor said.
They catch on quick, too.
“With athletes, you can do different things,” Bynon said. “We haven’t practiced having Ella on the foul line, but we wanted her to distribute from there because we saw something in their defense.”
Blesi collected eight assists and five steals to go with her seven points against Schenectady. Rzeszotarski finished with 14 points, and Chevalier — the only other senior on the team — had seven rebounds, four steals and four assists to go with five points.
“We just want to win, no matter the sport,” O’Connor said.
Bynon said his team (8-6) continues to improve and with one more win will equal the most for the Spartans since the 2005-06 season.
“I’m happy where we are at this point, but we haven’t played our best game,” said Bynon, who saw all 10 of his players Friday reach the scoring column. “We’re working on things and getting better.”
Schenectady got solid performances from Izabella Hempstead, who scored 12 points, and Anya Hernandez, who had eight rebounds and blocked two shots.
“My kids have shown incredible grit for the challenges we’ve faced this year,” Lupo said. “We started with 10, lost two and we have one injured [scoring leader and lone senior Janessa Jones]. These seven kids, day in and day out, have played as hard as they can.”
Burnt Hills 13 12 23 15 — 63
Schenectady 4 6 5 10 — 25
Burnt Hills scoring: Blesi 2-2-7, Cahan 2-0-5, Catalano 1-0-2, Chevalier 1-3-5, Goodell 2-0-6, Lescault 1-0-2, Neary 0-1-1, O’Connor 5-2-16, Robbins 2-1-5, Rzeszotarski 7-0-14. Schenectady scoring: Adams 0-1-1, Hempstead 5-0-12, Rodriguez 3-0-6, Terry 3-0-6. Scoring totals: Burnt Hills 23-9-63, Schenectady 11-1-25.