Winning a Section II championship is never easy, Gary Bynon will tell you, and it certainly never gets old.
Bynon’s Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ team made it 11 in a row Saturday at Stillwater High School, winning the Class A title with a three-game sweep of unbeaten Foothills Council champion Queensbury, 25-20, 25-12 and 25-21. In the Class AA game earlier in the day at Stillwater, Shenendehowa made it three straight sectional championships with a three-game sweep of top-seeded Guilderland, 25-18, 25-17 and 25-21.
In the Class A final, BH-BL was led by senior outside hitter Molly McCormack and will now take on the Section III champion at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Gloversville. While Queensbury played well at times Saturday and stayed close in two of the three games, Burnt Hills never really seemed in trouble. Bynon, however, never relaxed until it was finally over.
“I live nervous, so this never gets easy,” said Bynon. “The only thing easy about this is the opportunity to work with these kids. They’re a great group, and I’m so proud of them. This is this group’s first title, their first sectional championship, and all year we’ve just wanted them to be the best they can be. That’s what they’re doing. We’re a better team now than we were Wednesday.”
BH-BL had many heroes Saturday, but no one played any better than McCormack and Siena Wilder, the team’s senior setter. McCormack was announced as the Suburban Council’s Most Valuable Player for the 2012 season, while Wilder, an all-state pick on the Spartans state championship team last year, had another great all-around performance. Including last year’s win, Burnt Hills has four state titles and 18 sectional championships. The last time the Spartans lost a sectional final was to South Glens Falls in 2001. All the history and the records, however, don’t concern McCormack.
“We try to keep it about this team, and we play for each other and for this season,” said McCormack. “I was a bit nervous at first, but now I am so happy. We knew Queensbury was a very good team, and we knew we had to pull together and play very well.”
At 5-foot-7, McCormack’s hard hitting and athletic ability make her play a lot taller.
“I was 5-6 last year, and I was hoping I would even grow some more, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said, laughing. “We had some great digs and got the ball to our setters who were able to set me up. It was a great game from everybody.”
Burnt Hills also got fine play from seniors Lynsea Hensel and Erica Ziskin, junior Kathleen Schurman, sophomore Jessica Dillon and freshman Natalie Schurman.
“Anytime you beat a Queensbury team, it feels great because they’re such a good team,” said Bynon. “But our girls have overcome a lot of distraction, injuries and sickness to get this far. We are such a well-balanced team. Siena is a fantastic player, Jessica Dillon has become a better all-around player, and Erica Ziskin is our unsung hero. And Molly is just an athletic kid. She gets her power by using every inch of her body, but she’s also very steady.”
Senior Brooke Meader, named the Foothills Council MVP this season, played well for Queensbury, while head coach Tyler Carey also got fine performances from seniors Jenna Bureau, Sarah McMahon and Savannah Brayton.
In the Class AA final, Shenendehowa was the No. 2 seed and took a 15-5 record into the postseason. Along with losing to Guilderland during their one meeting this season in three straight games, the Lady Plainsmen also lost to Burnt Hills twice.
Saturday night, however, Lori Kessler’s team overcame deficits in both the second and third games to turn the tables on the Lady Dutch. Sophomore Connie Kraus had 16 service points, nine assists and seven kills for Shenendehowa, while Kessler also got powerful hitting from junior Gabby Agresta and sophomore Taylor Murphy, and great all-around play by sophomore Hayley Macken.
“They beat us during the regular season, so we knew they would be tough,” Kessler said of Guilderland. “But we are a very young team, and early in the season we were a little bit like a deer in the headlights. We really had to group together and learn how to play with each other. Fortunately, we’re peaking at just the right time.”
Senior Brook Lane also played well for Shenendehowa, coming up with a key kill to give her team a 21-20 lead in game three. Four points later, in what proved to be the longest rally of the match with great play from both teams, Macken got the ball to Kraus who put it away. Another kill by Kraus on the final point and Shenendehowa had its third-straight title.
“I don’t think we were mentally prepared the first time we played them,” said Lane. “It was early in the season, and we hadn’t figured out how to play with each other yet. Devyn [Morlock] and I are the only two seniors on the team, so it took us a while to get connected and feel bonded.”
Every time the Lady Dutch made a run at the Lady Plainsmen, Kessler called a timeout and the ploy seemed to work.
“She just tells us to calm down and collect ourselves,” Lane said of Kessler’s coaching during timeouts. “She said to get back to basics — pass, set and hit, and when we remember that, we do the things that need to happen to win.”
Guilderland got solid efforts from seniors Allison Van Doren (nine kills), Quincy Kinzel (11 assists and nine service points) and Hayley Mattice (six digs).
“Shenendehowa was young early in the year, and over the course of the season they picked up some valuable experience,” said Guilderland coach Jessica Allen. “I think our nerves were a factor in the sectionals, but our girls played hard and fought well. I’m very proud of them.”