Sometimes, taking a step or two backwards is needed before a big leap forward.
The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ lacrosse team is determined to see that come to fruition this spring as it bids for Suburban Council success and — at the top of its wish list — another Section II championship.
“We’re not the best team we can be yet,” third-year Burnt Hills coach Katie Kerner said. “I see the pieces of our game all coming together like a puzzle that hasn’t been assembled. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
The Spartans are seeking what would be a fourth Section II title in five seasons. They won area Class C titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and — following the 2020 season that never happened because of COVID-related restrictions — the Spartans reached the 2021 area Class B final before a loss to Queesbury ended what had been a superb campaign.
“Burnt Hills kids are going to work hard,” Spartans junior Ella Blesi said. “We all want the same thing, and that’s to get back to the championship game. The goal is always to win a title.”
The Spartans are back in the Section II Class C fold this season with the likes of Scotia-Glenville, Albany Academy and 2021 Section II champ Averill Park. Different for the Spartans, too, is their roster that lost Allie Connally, Erin McClernan, Sydney Fitzgerald, Paige Thowe, Allie Pohl, Isabel Adams and Carly Szczepaniak to graduation.
“Our team dynamic has changed,” Blesi said. “We’ve got a lot of new girls.”
Burnt Hills went 11-0 in the Suburban Council and 13-2 overall last spring, with both setbacks coming against Queensbury. Burnt Hills had lost to Queensbury 13-11 early in the season, then put together a 10-game win streak, and then lost to Queensbury again in the Class B final 17-11.
“It came down to grit. They wanted it so much more,” Burnt Hills junior MK Lescault said. “We were confident and they came out super strong.”
That loss provided Burnt Hills with plenty of off-season motivation, as did Tuesday’s 11-6 campaign-starting non-league loss to Bethlehem. In that contest, Burnt Hills did some good things, yet Bethlehem trumped that effort, with the reigning Section II Class A champion Eagles taking advantage of turnovers and slowing the Spartans’ offense for significant stretches.
“This is going to drive us,” Blesi said. “We were not expecting this. We’ve got to prepare better.”
Despite missing two key players in senior defender Ally Frame (swimming commitment) and sophomore attack Grace Tullock (ice hockey commitment), Burnt Hills offered no excuses after losing to a Bethlehem team it edged in overtime last year for one of its signature wins.
“That was a wake-up call,” Kerner said after Tuesday’s defeat at Centennial Field. “In practice we haven’t been playing our hardest. Now we know if we don’t practice 100 percent, we won’t play 100 percent.”
Burnt Hills got all of its goals from the midfield in the Bethlehem game, with Blesi and Lescault scoring three apiece. Lescault, a US Lacrosse All-American and Johns Hopkins commit, often had a difficult time finding an open teammate when Bethlehem threw two defenders at her.
“I think, personally, we didn’t work together,” said Lescault, who led Burnt Hills in goals (62) and assists (22) last season. “There was not enough trust in each other like last year.”
That, Lescault insisted, will change as this season moves forward — and Burnt Hills bounced back from its season-opening loss with league wins against Albany and Guilderland.
“I think we’ll get closer as a team,” said the star junior, who, along with Blesi, Frame and senior goalie Maddie Morrison, are this year’s captains. “We are going to jell and click. We are going to catch and pass and run our plays. We will understand the whole game of lacrosse better.”
A remembrance get-together for longtime Guilderland lacrosse and football coach Arty Waugh will take place June 12 (3 to 6 p.m.) at Orchard Creek Golf Club in Altamont.
Waugh, who was inducted into the Adirondack Chapter of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame in 2021, died March 7 at the age of 79.
Waugh graduated from Colonie High School and Syracuse University, and taught art at Guilderland and coached there in a career that spanned 34 years. He introduced lacrosse to Guilderland and led that program from 1976 through 2000. He was also a standout goalkeeper and was a fixture in the Mohawk Lacrosse League, the Lake Placid Summer Lacrosse Tournament and the Native American Festival. In 2014, he was named a Legend of Lake Placid Lacrosse.
A popular coach with a quick wit and an innate ability to motivate his players, Waugh served as a football assistant under fellow Capital Region Football Hall of Fame inductee Bud Kenyon for 14 years, and afterward, he led the Dutchmen for six more years before stepping down in 1986.
Niskayuna’s varsity baseball team will play its home games this spring at Central Park in Schenectady due to scheduled construction surrounding the high school field.
“We’ll practice at our field but we won’t be playing there,” Niskayuna varsity baseball coach Chris Bianchi said. “It’s a safety precaution. We don’t want to see any kids or older folks get hurt trying to get to the field.”
Work at the high school is part of a capital project that Niskayuna residents approved in February 2021, and will eventually include a baseball field make-over as well as other athletic facility upgrades.
“We won’t have all of our equipment or the comfort of playing right outside school, and there’s the travel, but that’s a small price to pay to get a new baseball complex,” Bianchi said.
Niskayuna has 10 varsity home games scheduled, and will play at all three of the Central Park diamonds starting Monday with a 4:15 p.m. matchup against Shenendehowa at Buck Ewing Field (A field). The Silver Warriors will host Albany Wednesday at the C field at 4:15 p.m.
“We’ve got a small core of veteran players who are very hungry,” Bianchi said. “And we’ve got a bunch of younger players that are out to prove they belong in this league [Suburban Council]. They’re hungry, too. I think we’ll have an exciting team that is going to surprise some people.”
Niskayuna’s junior varsity baseball team will use Craig Elementary School as its home field, and Niskauyuna’s modified team will use Blatnick Park for most of its home games.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: High School Sports, Sports