BURNT HILLS — Shenendehowa held a lead midway through each of the sets it played against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in Monday’s matchup of Suburban Council volleyball unbeatens, but it wasn’t a comfortable lead.
“At some point it’s, ‘We need to push it,’ ” Plainsmen senior Grace Almeida said after her team posted a three-set sweep of the Spartans. “No one said it. It was more like we mentally connected. I feel that happens a lot.”
Shenendehowa connected at the net, too, and quite often, with its front line cast turning well-placed feeds into a slew of points as it handed Burnt Hills its first Suburban Council defeat since the 2017 season 25-13, 25-17, 25-13.
Some of the big numbers for Shenendehowa were 46 kills, including 12 by Sabrina Kinkaid and 11 by Reagan Ennist, and 37 assists that Emma Paliwodzinski collected for the state’s No. 4-ranked Class AA team.
“It feels so good to finish my last Suburban Council match with a win against Burnt Hills,” said Paliwodzinski, a senior setter. “We’re going to go into the postseason with the same amount of energy and team flow. I’m so excited.”
Shenendehowa’s playing flow got crisper in each set, with the Plainsmen putting together a 7-1 run after building a 14-10 lead in the first, and a 6-1 run after building a 15-10 lead in the second. The Plainsmen were up 13-10 in the third set before a 5-1 spurt paved the way to victory.
“I felt like everything fell into place. We knew what it would take,” Almeida, a middle blocker, said after totaling seven kills and three blocks. “We cleared blocks, swung hard, and our service game was there.”
Ennist had three kills during Shenendehowa’s first-set 7-1 surge, and Almeida and Christina de la Rocha both had a pair of kills in the set-two 6-1 run. Kinkaid capped the set-three 5-1 run with two kills.
“I was getting good passes and I had three amazing options on the court at all times,” Paliwodzinski said. “They just whammed it.”
Spreading the wealth was part of the game plan for Shenendehowa (12-0 league, 18-5 overall), which dealt Burnt Hills (11-1, 13-2) that league loss in 2017, and also beat the Spartans in 2016 to end their 390-match SC win streak.
“We knew tonight we had to spread out our attack or they would camp out in the middle or outside,” Shenendehowa coach Lori Kessler said.
“We tried to spread it out across the front line,” Almeida said. “Coach was saying, ‘We have a lot of good hitters. Let’s spread it out.’ ”
Shenendehowa also played a solid defensive game at the net, where Kinkaid and de la Rocha both picked up two blocks to go with Almeida’s trio of them.
“One of our weaknesses is reading tip coverage, and I thought we had good net presence with Grace and Sabrina,” Kessler said. “We knew they were going to tip as much as kill on us.”
Burnt Hills had some success with its blockers but hardly enough to hold off the taller Plainsmen, who did not drop a set in league play this season.
Genny Sala had 10 kills for Shenendehowa, and de la Rocha chipped in with six kills.
“Blocking is such a big part of this game,” Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said. “We had some big blocks at big moments, but we’ve got to be better at it. We have to have more if we want to keep winning sectionals and moving up.”
Shenendehowa set in motion its strong offense with its serve receive and defense in open play, and in the end, Kasia Barletta had 16 digs, Paliwodzinski had 13 digs, and Ennist and Sala had nine and six digs, respectively.
“When you play a good team like that, you get one chance or they are going to finish the point,” Bynon said of his team’s inability to string points.
“They are one of the best teams in the Northeast because of that reason.”
Leah Scalise had eight kills for Burnt Hills, the state’s No. 5-ranked Class A team, while Danielle DeBonis totaled 14 assists and Grace Ippolito had five digs.
“We put her in [at libero] for the third set,” Bynon said of Ippolito. “She gave us a little spark.”
Defending Section II championships is next on the area heavyweights’ to-do lists. Shenendehowa will be eyeng a Class AA repeat (Shen won nine in a row from 2010-18) and another chance to go after that elusive state crown.
“We were so close last year,” Kessler said of Shenendehowa’s 3-1 loss to Burnt Hills. “Ever since that game a goal of ours was to play them and play them well. This will serve as a catalyst heading into sectionals.”
Burnt Hills will be going after what would be its 19th straight Section II title at the Class A level and 20th in a row overall (BH won the 2002 area Class B flag).
“We’ll come back and get to work,” said Bynon, whose 2021 edition won the program’s eighth state championship. “We can’t just not get to work.”