It was in the semifinal round of a tournament at Baldwinsville midway through last season when Senendehowa girls’ volleyball coach Lori Kessler came to a realization.
“We were going point for point with Penfield, and they’re always good. Everything was clicking for us,” said Kessler. “In the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure where we were going to go, and we hit that turning point. The way we played in that semifinal, right there I knew we had the potential to get to the regionals.”
Shenendehowa continued to make forward strides, and did indeed reach the regionals after sweeping past Schenectady, Shaker and Guilderland to claim its third straight Section II Class AA tournament title. It was a championship few had predicted last August, considering Shenendehowa’s 14-player roster was among Section II’s youngest, with 10 sophomores and a freshman.
“They started out as babies and finished so strong,” said Kessler. “You wouldn’t have known their age at the end of the season.”
The Lady Plainsmen are still awfully young, but a year better.
“They played together the entire offseason, and that added to their chemistry and experience as a group,” said Kessler. “Where they’re at, it’s ahead of where we left off, but we know we have a lot of work to do to get where we want to be.
“We want to get to new places.”
Shenendehowa’s last three seasons ended in the regionals against Syracuse heavyweight Baldswinsville. The Lady Plainsmen turned in their most competitive effort against the Bees last year in a
25-21, 25-22, 25-21 setback.
“We have big goals, but we have to take one step at a time and try to reach our small goals, too,” said Kessler, who is in her seventh year in charge of the Lady Plainsmen. “We’ve got the Suburban Council, which is a great league to play volleyball in. We’ve got our tournament, and we’re going to Penfield, Minisink Valley and Baldwinsville. We’ve got the sectionals.”
Shenendehowa was peaking by the time last year’s sectionals rolled around, and the Lady Plainsmen avenged a league loss to top-seeded Guilderland in the Class AA final with a 25-18, 25-17, 25-21 victory. Setter Hayley Macken was among Shenendehowa’s standouts in the final with 26 assists, and middle blocker Taylor Murphy was another with seven kills and three blocks.
Macken and Murphy went into the 2012 season as Shenendehowa’s only players with significant varsity game experience. They both made the Suburban Council all-star first team as sophomores, and went out on impressive notes, as Macken collected 27 assists and Murphy slugged down 11 kills in the regional loss.
“This will be their third season on the varsity,” said Kessler. “Their experience playing at this level is so valuable.”
Ten of the 14 players from last year’s team that placed second in the Suburban Council North Division at 13-3 (Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake was first, 16-0) and went 17-6
verall are back. Brooke Lane and Devyn Morlock were the only players who graduated. Exchange student Natsumi Takamori returned home to Japan.
“The best way to describe the group we have is they’re extremely hungry,” Kessler said. “They’re excited, hungry and ready to go.”
Shenendehowa’s veteran group includes the team’s lone senior in middle blocker Gabby Agresta; junior middle blockers Lauren Canterbury and Michelle Paulsen, who was slowed by a quad injury in 2012; junior outside hitters Connie Krause and Mallory Heflin; junior setter Colleen Connelly; and a pair of defensive specialists in sophomore Gabby Falco and junior Kaitlin DeWolf.
“One way to get stronger is to play better competition. Another way is to work hard both physically and mentally on the days we’re not playing,” said Kessler. “Volleyball is a tough game, mentally. Momentum can change so fast. You’ve got to get out of ruts. You’ve got to forget mistakes and focus and get a run going.”
Turnover at BH-BL
Bold predictions aren’t Gary Bynon’s thing.
“We’re going to be prepared and we’re going to compete,” the longtime Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball coach said of the upcoming season. “I have kids who love to play.”
Seven kids who helped the Spartans win a second consecutive state Class A championship last fall are playing for college teams now, including All-American defensive ace Siena Wilder, setting and serving leader Erica Ziskin and Molly McCormack, the top point producer at the net.
“That’s high school athletics. You adjust to what you’ve got,” said Bynon. “We’ll have a different type of team.”
Another championship team perhaps? Burnt Hills has won 25 consecutive Suburban Council division titles to go along with 11 straight Section II and regional crowns. Bynon also guided teams to state flags in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
“Serving and defense and being a team. Working together and communicating. In the end, it always comes down to that,” said Bynon. “If you do those things, you have a chance in the league and then in the postseason.”
Kathleen Schurman played a key role with 17 kills when BH-BL capped its 2012 postseason run with a four-set victory over Pittsford Sutherland. Bynon’s daughter, Lindsay, served to start the state title-clinching sequence, and Jessica Dillon assisted McCormack on the last point.
“We have kids who have been there,” said Bynon.
Ashley Agan, Schurman and Lindsay Bynon are BH-BL’s only seniors. The junior group includes Dillon, Molly Gallagher, Katrina Little, Jaleah Owens and transfer Emma Sprotbery, a starting middle blocker on Voorheesville’s 2012 state Class C runner-up team. Natalie Schurman saw significant time as a freshman, and is joined by five other sophomores who are new to the team.
“Natalie is going to open a lot of eyes as an outside hitter. We played her a little out of position last year, in the middle,” said Bynon. “She had an unbelievable offseason and came in and right away established herself as one of our go-to players.”
Dillon was one of them last year with her play at the net, yet the all-state second-teamer is also an outstanding setter.
“She is one of the best all-around players in the state with her setting and hitting,” Bynon said of the four-year varsity performer. “She can do so many things for us.”
Dillon or incoming sophomore Jessica Fowler will fill the setter role when BH-BL runs its 5-1 offense. They’ll both be on the court when BH-BL swithes to its 6-2 offense.
“Running different offenses enables you to throw something different at teams,” said Bynon. “I’ve got pretty flexible kids.”
Lyndsay Bynon and incoming sophomore Kate Isaksen will fill the libero role.
“I’ve got some kids who are ready to step in,” said coach Bynon.
Half of the 12 girls’ volleyball teams scheduled to compete in Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s Sept. 7 Hal Van Earden Memorial Tournament saw action in the state final four last November at the Glens Falls Civic Center, including the Class A champion Spartans and fellow New York titlists Our Lady of Mercy (Class AA) and John Glenn (Class B).
State Class AA runner-up Baldwinsville and semifinalists Walter Panas (Class A) and Johnstown (Class B) will also take part in the Burnt Hills tourney.
Burnt Hills beat John Glenn for the Van Earden championship last year.
Past Everett T. Grout Memorial Cross Country Invitation champions Jack Meader and Rick DiCamillo will be on hand for a tribute commemorating the longtime event at the Sept. 9 Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame and Reunion Dinner.
Meader ran for Nott Terrace when he prevailed in 1948, and DiCamillo represented Mont Pleasant when he placed first in record time in 1953.
The 75th Grout Run is scheduled for Oct. 5 at Central Park in Schenectady.
This year’s athletic hall of fame inductees are baseball pitcher Ed Barnowski, basketball player Bob DeLuca and the late Lee Wallard, winner of the 1951 Indianapolis 500. The event will take place at Proctor’s Theatre.
Winkler wins silver
Averill Park graduate Rudy Winkler won a silver medal in the 6-kilogram hammer throw Friday at the Pan American Junior Athletics Championships in Medellin, Colombia.
The national record-holder in the event had a best throw of 235-6. Winkler was overtaken in the final round by Diego Allen Galinda of Mexico with a 239-5.
The Cornell University-bound Winkler was recently selected Dyestat’s Most Outstanding Performer for the 2013 outdoor season and landed a spot on the USA Today track and field all-star team.