GLENS FALLS — After so many wonderful Shenendehowa volleyball seasons ended in disappointment, this one didn’t.
The Plainsmen swept Lancaster in Saturday’s semifinal round and did it again on Sunday to capture the school’s first New York state girls’ championship at Cool Insuring Arena.
“We made history,” Shenendehowa senior setter Emma Paliwodzinski said after her team’s 25-23, 25-17, 25-16 triumph in the Class AA final. “This is a big moment for Shenendehowa volleyball.”
The Shenendehowa boys won their first state title Saturday before the girls joined them with a superb performance that saw them continually turn defense into offense, and most of that came from the Plainsmen’s potent front line.
“This is a huge moment for our school district,” Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said soon after Paliwodzinski set up fellow senior Grace Almeida for the match-clinching kill. “I couldn’t be happier for our boys and girls.”
Shenenendehowa began Saturday’s semifinal round with a 25-21, 25-12 win over Lancaster and a 25-6, 25-16 win over Corning. Needing one win to advance, Shenendehowa topped Massapequa 25-20, and then lost 25-22. Lancaster finished 4-2 in the semifinals.
“I thought that sweep [of Lancaster] yesterday was super important. It set the mood for today,” said Plainsmen sophomore Reagan Ennist, an all-tournament selection who had 18 kills Saturday to go with her 15 Sunday. “They came at us and we were able to beat them for a fourth time this season. That’s a hard thing to do.”
Sunday’s triumph capped a gradual climb for the Shenendehowa program under coach Lori Kessler, who guided her teams to nine straight Section II Class AA titles from 2010 through 2018. Shenendehowa lost in regional finals four consecutive years beginning in 2010, and then prevailed at that stage of the state tournament five straight times beginning in 2014 to get to the final four, yet only made it to one championship match in 2017. That match ended with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Connetquot.
Shenendehowa made it back to the final four last year only to go 2-4 in a fruitless semifinal.
“Coach Kessler let us know how much this would mean,” said Almeida, who also earned all-tournament status. “We made it and lost. Made it and lost. Last year we made it and lost again. Being the team that made history at the state tournament is amazing.”
“I am so proud of this team. It’s a dream come true,” Kessler said after her Plainsmen concluded a 22-5 campaign. “We knew we had the skill, but we had to have the mental side of it to handle the pressure of states.”
Lancaster, a Section VI representative, kept it close in each of the three sets Sunday before Shenendehowa regrouped to notch a victory.
“We’re just great friends off the court,” Paliwodzinski said. “And we bring that onto the court.”
Shenendehowa was at its best in a close-out 9-2 run in the third set after Lancaster had crept within 16-14. Ennist had two kills and an ace during that clutch stretch, and with Shenendehowa’s fans standing for game point as is their tradition, Almeida finished the match after Paliwodzinski’s set up pass.
“I knew once Grace came in, I wanted to set her up for game point,” Paliwodzinski said. “I wanted her to finish it.”
Lancaster never led in the opening set but did manage to pull even at 20 and again at 23, before Ennist and senior Destiny Snyder answered with kills to end it.
“They came at us pretty well,” Kessler said. “We know they’re such a great program. We made some adjustments from Saturday.”
Almeida and Ennst both had two kills and a block in a 7-0 spurt in the second set that enabled the Plainsmen to open up a, 18-10 advantage, and senior Lianna Rizzo’s kills ended that one.
“We couldn’t do it without her,” Almeida said of Paliwodzinski’ and her sets.
Almeida’s seven kills and seven blocks were part of a huge effort by Shenendehowa’s frontline cast.
“We just have amazing players up there,” Ennist said of the Shenendehowa bigs. “Height certainly helps, but we all work so hard at it. We meshed today.”
Paliwodzinski was tabbed the tournament MVP after she piled up 37 assists Sunday and 68 of them Saturday. Shenendehowa junior libero Kasia Barletta also put up huge numbers with 38 defensive digs Sunday and 48 Saturday.
Shenendehowa’s entire cast played a strong defensive match that kept Lancaster from stringing points while at the same time setting the offensive wheels in motion.
“It’s one of the best defenses I’ve ever had,” Kessler said. “They 100 percent deserve a lot of credit for getting us here and getting us the championship.”
Sophomore Genny Sala had 16 digs, nine kills and three blocks, and Ennist contributed 12 digs to go with her 15 kills. Junior Sabrina Kinkaid had 11 kills and four blocks, Snyder had 11 digs and a team-high 10 service points, and Rizzo added seven digs.
Shenendehowa is Section II’s first state Class AA champion.