ALBANY — It has been said that it’s the journey that counts during each sport season.
The Shenendehowa boys’ volleyball team has made countless journeys, including four trips to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament.
Three times before Saturday.
Three times the Plainsmen didn’t hold up the wooden trophy in the shape of New York State as the Division I champion.
The fourth time was the charm as the Plainsmen overcame an incredibly long first set, cramps that sidelined its top setter and four sets for Shenendehowa to clinch its first-ever state boys’ volleyball championship.
The Plainsmen defeated Section V’s Webster 32-30, 20-25, 25-12, 25-22 Saturday afternoon at Albany Capital Center. Shenendehowa advanced through pool play with a 3-1 record, its lone loss, to Webster.
“We were on the JV when Shen lost in 2019,” Shenendehowa senior Brendan Shields said. “I remember being in the stands over there. I remember our coaches saying you guys are gonna be that team.”
Section V dominated the last six contested state championships, with titles won by McQuaid, Penfield and Fairport. No state championships were held in 2020 due to restrictions in place due to the novel coronavirus.
On Saturday, the Plainsmen were the top dogs.
“Something felt different this year,” Shenendehowa coach John Coletta said. “We’ve been saying it for a couple of days now to the coaches like something’s different. Our team’s will to not give up, even when we’re down. When things are good, we give up some points, but then they come right back to keep playing hard. They keep their focus the whole time.”
Saturday’s final started with a grueling opening-set win by Shenendehowa that kept their respective student section and packed parent-filled adjacent stands in cheers and sudden silence.
“I think that first set really dictated the match outcome,” Coletta said. “That’s incredible. Especially for the first set, to be trading points like that back and forth. Webster is an amazing opponent. They’re an awesome team, so as you saw it very easily could have swung in a different direction.”
Shenendehowa fell back to Earth, losing the second set to Webster, as senior setter Ryan Connors dealt with leg cramps. He fought through them at times, rotated out to the bench before taking a break after the second game loss.
He would return and deliver 45 assists in the championship win.
Shenendehowa’s Bennett Wilson spent much of his time above the net, finishing with 29 kills in the final. He, too, was in the stands in 2019 for Shenendehowa’s loss to McQuaid.
“I know Ryan Connors and Cade Bernardi, the three of us all have played with some guys that were on that team, and we got to learn from their experiences and our coaches. Having been here before really helped us because they knew what the mindset had to be like,” Bennett said. “We’re on a team that is full of kids who are supportive to each other, and the fact that we’re able to be together no matter what happens, I think win or lose today, we were going to be OK with what we did.”
They did — they reached the top of New York State boys’ volleyball.
“I think as a team, it means that we’re forever put into the history books of our school that we were the ones that were able to get it done,” Bennett said “The guys who came before us really paved the path for us to get there.
“We’re the ones that got to finish it off, and to be able to say we are the first team to win a state championship for boys’ volleyball at Shenendehowa High School. I think it really means a lot to everyone.”