Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football coach Matt Shell didn’t say much during the opening days of practice about Troy, Schalmont and the other teams that dot the Spartans upcoming schedule.
“The kids understand the schedule that’s in front of us. A lot of good teams have us on their schedule,” Shell said near the end of workout. “We’ll get into that a little more as the games get closer. This week here is about getting excited to play football.”
Burnt Hills played some superb football in last 10 years with Shell at the helm, putting together an 86-22 record. The last six seasons included Section II Class A title-game appearances, and five of those teams won and advanced to state tournament play. Last season’s edition reached the state final at the Syracuse Carrier Dome, as did two before, in 2009 and 2008.
“No one is going to hand us anything,” said Shell. “We’ve got a good group of kids with some experience and size, but it’s the same old thing every year. We’ve got to go out and prove we’re a top caliber team.”
Last year’s team rebounded from a Week 2 loss at Amsterdam with 10 straight wins, including state playoff victories against Franklin Academy and Cornwall. The Spartans built a 20-7 halftime lead against Maine-Endwell in the state final, only to lose a heartbreaking 27-20 setback.
“Last year, for a half, we were the best team in the state. Unfort-
unately it was the wrong half,” said Shell. “The kids who were a part of that understand that. There are no guarantees at all.”
Burnt Hills begins the new journey with a cast that includes quarterback Ryan McDonnell, running back Dan Porter and all-state selections Eric Dillon at end and Nick Marchesiello on the line, and a pair of promising late-season junior varsity callups in Danny Maynard and Josh Quesada.
Quesada had a 62-yard run in the state final that set up one of
McDonnell’s two touchdown passes.
“There’s always intangibles. How is the leadership going to come? How are they going to react to adversity? You never know. In drills and with the Xs and Os, you can see things and correct things,” said Shell. “If you can get those things taken care of, it alleviates a lot of pressure.”
Be certain, Shell won’t be putting added pressure on his team to succeed. That’s never been his way. Effort is Shell’s byword and the thing he stresses above all else, rather than victories or championships.
“I want them to have a good experience. I want them to enjoy being a part of it,” Shell said. “If they do what they’re capable of doing, they have a chance to have a successful season.
“Go out and for four quarters give it all you’ve got, and you’ll have nothing to be ashamed of. Go out there and give yourself a chance, and there’s nothing to hang your head about.”
Shell is working with an eager group.
“The kids really want to do well. They want to play well. They
enjoy playing the game, and that’s a big thing,” he said. “They want to work hard and have fun, and we want that, too, but there’s always a fine line between when to work hard and when to have fun. They know what the line is. They know what it’s all about.”
Burnt Hills lost to graduation linebacker Dylan Wydronkowski, the Daily Gazette Defensive Player of the Year, as well as touchdown leader Tom Ruppel, secondary standout Jack Guba and line star Nick Crocetto.
Fayetteville-Manlius sits atop the Tully Runners preseason all-class ranking for New York girls’ cross country teams, with Saratoga Springs and Holy Names second and third, and eight other Section II squads in the top 30.
Fayetteville-Manlius (Section III) brings back all but one runner, including standout Jillian Fanning, from a team that captured its sixth consecutive state Class A and national titles last season. Saratoga returns Taylor Driscoll, Keelin Hollowood and Olivia Morrow from its Federation title-winning team, and Holy Names features Leah Triller and Catherine Maloy, as well as Saratoga transfer Estela Smith.
Smith was named to the all-state Class A first team in 2011, and was selected the state sportswriters’ top freshman runner.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (fifth), Greenwich (seventh), Shaker (10th), Colonie (tie 14th), Shenendehowa (18th), Guilderland (tie 19th), Queensbury (22nd) and Bethlehem (tie 25th) are also ranked in the all-class top 30.
Holy Names and Burnt Hills top the Class B list, and Greenwich is No. 1 in Class D.
The boys’ all-class list includes Saratoga (fourth) and Shaker (14th), with Fayetteville-Manlius on top.
Here and there
Christian Brothers Academy center/forward Greig Stire was named to the all-tournament team at the Basketball Coaches Association of New York Summer Hoops Festival in Johnson City. Stire’s Adirondack team reached the title game opposite Hudson Valley and lost on a last-second layup, 67-65.
Ron Lennox, who guided South Glens Falls to three straight Northern Conference basketball championships from 1967-69, and also coached track and golf at the school, will be inducted into the South High Bulldog Pride Hall of Fame Oct. 20 at the Queensbury Hotel. Lennox worked in the SGF school district for 28 years as a physical education instructor, and was the Town of Moreau’s longtime recreation director.