BURNT HILLS — Swimmers from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Scotia-Glenville high schools combined for a pool relay record to begin their last home meet and set another one to end it.
It’s been that kind of season for the unbeaten first-year merged Burnt Hills/Scotia squad led by coach Sean Headwell and featuring standout Sam Brown, which has a new position as one of Section II’s elite boys’ teams, and a good chance to win a long sought-after Section II title that wasn’t available last winter.
“No matter how we finish the season, we’ll be happy,” Burnt Hills senior Keegan Stafford said last week after his team went to 10-0 in duals with a victory over Mohonasen/Schalmont in its final home meet. “We got the teams together — which is something we have been trying to do for a while — we beat Shen for the first time in 15 years, and we had fun.”
More of that could be ahead for Burnt Hills/Scotia, starting Tuesday with a meet at CBA/Troy to close out the regular season. The Section II Division 2 and state championship meets will take place afterward, and include competitors from Scotia-Glenville for the first time in years.
“Since Day 1, we’ve been working the whole time,” said senior Addison Pokines, one of the four Scotia-Glenville students who have joined the team. “We’ve been counting down the days.”
Burnt Hills won its last Section II title in the 2007-08 (Small Division) season. You’ve got to go all the way back to 2001-02 to find the program’s last unbeaten dual meet edition, which Burnt Hills/Scotia can match Tuesday.
Burnt Hills also went unbeaten in duals in the 2000-01 campaign.
“The kids want it,” said Headwell, who in previous years coached at Albany Academy. “They want to go undefeated. They want to win the section title. The big thing is going after the state title as a team.”
These are realistic goals for a bolstered 19-member team that’s both talented and motivated by the loss of longtime and popular Burnt Hills boys’ and girls’ swim coach and teacher Matt Turner, who died unexpectedly last February.
“I know coach Turner is up there watching,” Stafford said. “We’re doing this for him.”
Headwell, who swam scholastically for Fonda/Johnstown, also coached the Burnt Hills/Scotia girls’ team for the first time this past fall season. That Burnt Hills/Scotia team, led by Towson commit Ally Frame, won seven of eight dual meets before a strong postseason showing.
“I was working with the girls, and [Burnt Hills athletic director] Joe Scalise said he was looking for a boys’ coach, and I took over,” Headwell said. “The girls had a huge season. They were third at sectionals [Division 1] and eighth in the state. The girls kind of ignited the powder keg and the boys have carried it over.”
“Since Day 1, we’ve put our trust in coach Headwell,” said Brown, a Scotia-Glenville senior and Missouri commit who has recorded the fastest times in Section II in the 50-yard freestyle (21.45) 100 butterfly (50.84) and 100 backstroke (50.60). “He has a different approach, but it works.”
Burnt Hills/Scotia has won all 10 of its duals by double digits, and its signature dual win came at home against Shenendehowa 95-75 on Jan. 25. Shenendehowa claimed four straight Section II Division 1 team titles before earning the Suburban Council meet championship last season when sectionals were not held out of COVID concerns. Burnt Hills placed eighth at the SC finals, a week after Turner’s death.
“I think we all lost a little motivation,” Stafford said.
Over time, that fire has been restored.
“When it comes time to race, they don’t want to lose,” said Headwell, whose team won nine races in the meet with Shenendehowa. “I think our younger guys have fed off that.”
Headwell added: “This is a great group of kids. I wish Matt Turner was here with these guys. We have a guardian angel.”
Burnt Hills/Scotia had some special moments in its final home meet last week when it knocked off Mohonasen/Schalmont 91-73. Brown, Pokines, Burnt Hills junior Liam Marshall and Stafford set a pool record in the 200 medley relay (1:39.77), and Stafford, Burnt Hills junior Ryan Karaca, Pokines and Brown set another one in the 400 free relay (3:18.34) to close out the meet.
“It’s been fun breaking records at a lot of pools,” Brown said.
Burnt Hills/Scotia will be in Shenendehowa’s pool for the three-day Section II championships slated for Feb. 17-19. Burnt Hills/Scotia will vie for the Division 2 title without a diver, a lack that so far it has overcome.
“We don’t have a diver. That’s one of our Achilles’ heels,” Headwell said. “We’ve got to get guys in the top eight and we’ve got to get wins.”
Glens Falls, Albany Academy, Queensbury and Gloversville have all secured Division 2/Small Division Section II titles since Burnt Hills won its last in 2008.
“I remember talking to Liam at the start of the season and thinking if everyone pitches in, we can win this,” Brown said.
Aside from Brown’s top three Section II-leading times, Karaca is No. 1 in the 200 individual medley (1:58.42) and Burnt Hills/Scotia is No.1 in the 200 medley relay (1:37.98), 200 free relay (1:28.41) and 400 free relay (3:14.67).
“It’s been a great season,” Pokines said. “We have a great team.”