The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team is following the same path taken by so many of its predecessors.
The new-look Spartans are getting better, and they showed off their improving team play and mental toughness in a three-set Suburban Council North Division sweep Thursday at Shenendehowa.
“We’re starting to get there. What we need to do is keep moving forward,” said veteran Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon, who graduated six seniors from last year’s state Class A championship team. “You always want to keep moving forward in every aspect of the game.”
The Spartans took another positive stride since Saturday’s semifinal loss to John Glenn at their Cider Challenge Tournament, using lengthy runs in each set to dispatch Shenendehowa, 25-10, 25-12, 25-17. In the process, Burnt Hills extended its league winning streak to 322 matches.
“This group just came out really focused. I’m really happy with that. From the first serve to the last serve, we played volleyball,” said Bynon. “We’ve had some lapses with our focus. It’s something we’ve done a lot of work on and had a lot of talks about.”
Shenendehowa made a strong comeback in the third set from a 13-3 deficit, three times getting within four, before Burnt Hills closed it out with a 5-1 spurt capped by two Molly McCormack kills.
“This is not an easy place to play,” said Bynon. “I’m proud of how we answered the call. This is such a crazy game of emotions. You need to stay focused on every point.”
“You’ve got to keep composure and not get all riled up. It’s best to stay calm,” said BH-BL senior libero Siena Wilder. “You need to keep a spark inside you, and at the same time, not let the other team see that it’s getting to you.”
Burnt Hills (9-0, 13-1) was never seriously threatened in the first two sets, and by the end had accumulated 32 kills, nine aces and 43 defensive digs against the two-time Section II Class AA champion Lady Plainsmen (7-2, 7-2).
“I thought they played their best volleyball of the year. That’s where you want to be on Sept. 27,” said Bynon. “Serve, pass and focus, it was all there.”
Wilder served seven aces, four of them coming in a 10-0 run early in the third set, and the all-state first-teamer topped the Spartans with 22 digs. Kathleen Schurman had 13 kills, including three in a 14-1 first-set spurt, another to kick-start a 6-0 run to end the second set and three more in the 10-0 third-set surge.
“In the last two weeks, Kathleen has established herself as one of the best outsides in the area,” Bynon said of the junior, who had 11 kills in Monday’s sweep of Ballston Spa. “She’s become a go-to player for us.”
Erica Ziskin collected 20 assists for the Spartans, McCormack finished with six kills and eight digs, and Lynsea Hensel and Natalie Schurman both added four kills. All of Natalie Schurman’s kills, along with a stuff block by the freshman, came in the tone-setting 14-1 run.
“They’re [Shenendehowa] a very good blocking team. They’re tall, and they can jump. They’re athletic girls,” Kathleen Schurman said. “Thankfully, we were able to finish our plays.”
Burnt Hills couldn’t finish off John Glenn, the defending state Class B champion, after the teams split their first two semifinal sets Saturday. John Glenn took the match, 25-19, 21-25, 25-16.
Two weeks before, Burnt Hills had beaten John Glenn at its Harold Van Earden Memorial Tournament, 25-23, 25-20, in the title match.
“We’re definitely motivated to get better. We’re a driven team,” said Wilder. “Getting beat gave us an opportunity to learn what we can get better at. We’re using it as a positive and not a negative.”
Brooke Lane had four kills and 14 digs for Shenendehowa, Hayley Macken totaled 18 assists and seven digs, and Gabby Agresta had each of her three kills in the Lady Plainsmen’s third-set comeback that made it 20-16.
“I thought we played a really good match,” said Kathleen Schurman. “We kept the energy up and the attitude up, which was very important.”