BURNT HILLS — If Tuesday’s volleyball match with Niskayuna proves to be a microcosm of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s 2022 season, coach Gary Bynon and his unproven Spartans will be a very happy bunch.
The match saw the new-look Spartans slog through an opening set win before hitting, defending and communicating at a much more efficient rate in taking the next two to complete a sweep.
They got better, which at this point is the reigning Class A state champions’ primary focus above all else.
“We’ve been talking about playing as a team,” said Danielle DeBonis, who, along with Peyton Felix, are the lone seniors on Bynon’s 15-player roster. “That’s been a big thing and getting confidence and running our stuff. I am 100% sure the more experience we get, the better we’ll get. I know we can do it.”
Tuesday’s 25-22, 25-14, 25-12 victory left them 3-0 in the Suburban Council and served as a positive comeback after Saturday’s three-set quarterfinal loss to Our Lady of Mercy at their Hal Van Earden Tournament.
“Some of the stuff we practiced yesterday we got better at today,” Bynon said.
“Coach [Bynon] was proud of how we played the second and third sets,” Felix said after collecting eight kills against Niskayuna. “We got focused and played real well. Every time we play, we get better, and that’s huge.”
Burnt Hills lost six seniors to graduation including libero Kiera Hartpence and the star front line tandem of Carlie Rzeszotarski and Callie Chevalier, who combined for 33 kills in last season’s sweep of Walter Panas in the state Class A title match.
That leaves DeBonis, a setter, and Felix, a right side player, as the leaders of a cast that in time will sharpen its aim as it tries to add to the program’s 34 straight Suburban Council division titles and 19 consecutive Section II championships. That cast includes six varsity newcomers.
“That can’t be an issue in our brains right now,” DeBonis said of the rich Burnt Hills tradition that also includes 19 straight regional titles and eight New York tournament first place banners. “The key is getting better. If we lose, we keep working and move on.”
“I give this group a lot of credit,” Bynon said. “It’s tough to be an inexperienced team in this program. They know the history and they keep getting after it every day. They want to get better. It’s a work in progress.”
Bynon is leaning on Felix and DeBonis for a boost on and off the court.
“We’re just learning, and I can’t say enough about those two up to this point,” Bynon said. “They’re seniors. They’ve been through it. They are young adults that the kids want to follow. They know what it takes to get to that higher level.”
Burnt Hills climbed a couple of notches after breaking away from a 14-14 tie in Tuesday’s first set with runs of 5-1 and 4-0. The second set was all but decided much earlier when the Spartans erased a 3-2 deficit with an 18-2 run.
The Spartans extended an 8-6 lead in the third set with an 11-3 run.
“The biggest thing — and you saw it tonight — is how much in this sport runs matter,” Bynon said. “We need to keep runs going, and that comes with consistency. He have to be more consistent. Good teams feed off success. They look at what’s working and keep going to it.”
DeBonis said Burnt Hills’ offense was more effective Tuesday after it was able to establish the middle with junior Leah Scalise and sophomore Sarah Robbins. Scalise and Robbins finished with seven and six kills, respectively.
“When we establish the middle, I have so many more options,” DeBonis said after piling up 33 assists. “It’s something we want to do.”
Junior Sophia Tassone totaled 11 kills to lead the Spartans, and 11th-grader McKenna Law had seven kills. Junior Olivia Atkins had nine defensive digs.
“From the beginning of the season the girls have put a lot of work into this,” Felix said. “We realize what we need to do and why we need to do it.”
Burnt Hills beat Our Lady of Mercy in five sets in a non-league match Friday. On Saturday Burnt Hills swept its three pool matches at the Van Earden tourney and Our Lady of Mercy split its three before the Rochester contingent won that quarterfinal match.
That was just the first of several high profile tournaments the Spartans are scheduled to compete in this fall.
“Now we realize what kind of competition we’re going to see,” Felix said.