Shorthanded Shen boys’ volleyball tops Burnt Hills in four sets

Shenendehowa’s Bennett Wilson spikes the ball over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s Noah Bocketti and Cody Gladding Wednesday.
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Shenendehowa’s Bennett Wilson spikes the ball over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s Noah Bocketti and Cody Gladding Wednesday.

BURNT HILLS Wednesday night’s come-from-behind victory at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake might be a critical point in the Shenendehowa boys’ volleyball team’s season.

The Plainsmen (9-0 Suburban Council), playing without three teammates, including two starters, and their head coach John Coletta, dropped the first set to the Spartans. But stand-in head coach Ross Halpern refocused his squad, and the team proceeded to win three tight sets to secure the win.

Halpern was filling in for Coletta, unavailable due to illness along with the three players. Halpern, in his first-ever varsity match at the helm, had to rally the Plainsmen after a losing that opening frame 25-23.

“Burnt Hills applied really good service pressure on us in set one,” Halpern said. “I think there were some nerves also for our guys just settling into the game.”

Halpern also gave the Spartans credit for how they disjointed his team across the floor early on.

“There was some real improvement on their side of the net, and they won that set fair and clean,” Halpern said. “They were causing us to be out of system a little bit, and they had guys putting the ball away.”

Junior outside hitter Bennett Wilson was aware of the challenges his team was facing, but said it just created a stronger group-first mentality.

“The whole conversation was about putting in more effort as a team,” Wilson said. “Just because our starting center and our starting libero isn’t here doesn’t give us an excuse to just lay back and let everything go.”

The Plainsmen won the next three sets 25-21, 25-20 and 25-21 as Wilson finished with 18 kills in the win.

“I have to give Eric Learner credit for stepping up with the hands as our setter today,” Halpern said. “He gave some confidence to our hitters and did a really nice job working in his role today. When Eric stepped up, he kind of ignited the team.”

Learner finished with 40 assists in his first start.

Images: Shenendehowa boys’ volleyball rally, beat Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (13 photos)

Halpern credited Learner for using his time on the sidelines prior to Wednesday learning his craft.

“Ryan [Connors] has been at our center this year, and I think one of the top hands in the state,” Halpern said. “Eric [Learner] has been working with Ryan the past two seasons in practice, and they’re always talking to each other. I know Ryan is super happy for him that he had this opportunity. Eric really stepped it up.”

Alex Bui had eight kills and 10 digs for the Plainsmen, with Jake Mahoney adding nine digs and 10 kills.

Wilson’s power above the net was matched by Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior outside hitter Liam Calhoun’s 19-kill performance.

“He’s a good athlete and has adapted to hitting outside,” Burnt Hills coach Paul Sander said of Calhoun. “He has always been our middle [hitter] for the last two years, but we needed him outside. Now, we need to get him the ball as often as possible.”

Taking the opening set 25-23, was a bright spot for Sander and the 4-5 Spartans who will not see the Plainsmen again unless the two meet in the postseason.

Shenendehowa will compete in Division I [large schools] and Burnt Hills in Division II [small schools].

“If we played like that for the other five losses, we wouldn’t be 4-5,” Sander said. “I’m seeing progression, and that’s what we want. If we can progress from this and we take this as a stepping stone, the next thing is sectionals and then the next step [regionals] and then if we get down to states we want to be competitive.”

Images: Shenendehowa boys’ volleyball rally, beat Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (13 photos)

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