Lori Kessler is well aware of the competition ahead. The Shenendehowa girls’ volleyball coach also knows what she has — a young team that has performed beyond its years in earning a trip to the state regionals.
“I feel we’re ready,” Kessler said of today’s Class AA match with Baldwinsville. “The way we’ve played the last few weeks has been very telling. We’re ready for the challenge. We’re capable of competing with them.”
Shenendehowa will take on Baldwinsville at noon, and Class A representative Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake will face Oswego at 2 in a double-header at Gloversville High School.
The Shenendehowa team taking the court will bear little resemblance to the one that lost to the Bees in three sets last year, with sophomore setter Hayley Macken and sophomore middle blocker Taylor Murphy the lone players who saw significant time.
“In the beginning of the season, our youth hindered us. Now, I can see they’re not feeling pressure as much. They’re just going out and playing and doing their best,” said Kessler, who has 10 sophomores and a freshman among her cast of 14. “That should help us. Their approach is, ‘Let’s not focus on winning or losing. Let’s focus on the next point, and go for it.’ ”
Since battling Burnt Hills tough in a 3-1 loss to end the Suburban Council season, Shenendehowa (18-5) has been on a postseason roll. The Lady Plainsmen swept Schenectady, Shaker and Guilderland in the Section II tournament, rallying from deficits in the second and third sets to avenge a 3-0 league loss to top-seeded Guilderland.
“Sometimes when you’re down, you lose momentum and make more mistakes. They wanted it. They wanted to get it done in three,” Kessler said of last Saturday’s title match with Guilderland. “Coming back like that was a confidence boost. They whole team stepped up.”
Sophomore outside hitter Connie Krause had a superb sectional final with 16 service points and nine aces, and four kills including the third-set clincher in a 25-21 win. Macken collected 26 assists, Murphy had seven kills and three blocks, junior middle blocker Gabby Agresta totaled eight kills and three blocks, and sophomore libero Natsumi Takamori has 23 digs.
“We’ve been trying to focus on defense. We’ve been working hard with our blockers and back row. Our mentality is it’s not OK for balls to drop,” said Kessler. “We’ll need a big defensive effort [against Baldwinsville], and we’ll try to take them out of their system as much as possible by serving aggressively and running a fast offense.”
Baldwinsville (16-0) claimed its fifth straight Section III title Wednesday with a 25-9, 25-11, 25-17 triumph over Fayetteville-Manlius behind Lexi Lagoy’s nine kills, Madison Whitney’s six kills and Maureen Thayer’s 24 assists.
Baldwinsville beat Bethlehem in the 2008 and 2009 regionals, and topped Shenendehowa in 2010 en route to the state championship. The Bees were the state runners-up to Penfield last season.
“We saw them at their tournament, but we were in different pools and did not play, and their [Section III] final was on line,” said Kessler. “They’ve got a great middle hitter [Lagoy], and they run a fast offense. They’re solid all over. They’ve got a little dynasty going.”
Burnt Hills (27-2) will go after its 11th regional title in as many years when it takes on Oswego (13-4). Burnt Hills used a regional win over Fulton last year as a steppingstone toward its fourth state championship.
Burnt Hills beat Queensbury, 3-0, to advance to state play. Oswego beat Fulton, 3-0, in the Section III final.
In regional finals at SUNY-Canton today, Johnstown (17-3) will play Massena (Section X, 17-3) in a Class B match at 4, Voorheesville (20-0) will take on Salmon River (Section X, 15-3) in a Class C match at noon and Hartford (17-2) will go against Chateaugay (Section X, 18-1) in a Class D match at 2.
Johnstown, Voorheesville and Hartford swept Section VII opponents Beekmantown, AuSable Valley and Northern Adirondack, respectively, in regional semifinals Tuesday. At the Section X overall tournament Thursday, Massena beat Salmon River in the semifinals, 3-0, before handing Chateaugay its first loss in the final, 3-0.
Bethlehem (24-1) will host Suffern in a Division I regional final today at 1. The Eagles beat the Mounties in regional play the last two years, and the rematch was made when Bethlehem topped Shenendehowa, 3-1, in the Section II final behind Aaron Carrk’s 16 kills and Kevin Mahar’s 40 assists. Suffern beat Clarkstown North, 3-1, in the Section I final behind Tommy Sharp’s 18 kills and Jack Sheehan’s 15 blocks.
Both the boys’ and girls’ state tournaments are next weekend at the Glens Falls Civic Center.