Gary Bynon hesitated as he searched for the right words. His Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team had just survived a brilliant bid by Shenendehowa, and kept one of the great Section II athletic streaks alive.
“It goes without saying. Shenendehowa is a great team, but I’m in awe of my kids right now,” Bynon said. “No one knows the pressure they play under. I don’t know how they do it. They just love to play this game, and they seem to thrive in these situations.”
Burnt Hills rallied in the third set and again in the fourth to prevail Tuesday evening before a loud crowd in the Shenendehowa gymnasium, 25-19, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21, and extend its Suburban Council winning streak to 342 matches, going back to the 1990 season.
“It was a really big team effort,” said BH-BL sophomore Natalie Schurman, who slugged down 18 kills and was a defensive leader, as well, with 16 digs. “It took 15 girls and our coaches. It took our managers and our fans.”
Both Burnt Hills (13-0, 17-3) and Shenendehowa (11-2, 13-3) had plenty of shining moments in the North Division showdown, yet in the end, the Spartans had just a few more.
Jaleah Owens had a block, and Jessica Dillon and Schurman pumped down kills in an 8-1 flurry by the Spartans to finish off the Coaches vs. Cancer match.
“I’m not disappointed in my team at all,” said Shenendehowa coach Lori Kessler. “This is the best I’ve seen them play. We’re hoping to take this level of play into the sectionals.”
Shenendehowa will soon be going after its fourth straight large-school sectional championship. Burnt Hills will be striving for its 12th consecutive area crown, but first things first.
“That’s something we talked about yesterday, the league title. Now, we have a two-game lead with three to go,” said Bynon, who has guided the Spartans to 25 SC division banners in a row. “People think it’s something we just brush aside, but it’s important to us. The league championship is always a goal.”
Keeping the streak alive is, too, though the impressive run is rarely mentioned in the Burnt Hills’ camp.
“We try to take it game by game, point by point, but it’s there,” said Schurman. “We always know it’s there.”
The Lady Plainsmen made it known in the first set that they were there to give the Spartans all they could handle. The Lady Plainsmen trailed in that first set, 16-4, and responded with a 12-2 surge in which Connie Krause delivered three kills and Taylor Murphy had two kills and a block.
“It was like in the state final last year, when we lost the first set, but we gained hope,” said Bynon. “They gained momentum with their comeback.”
“From that point on, they decided that they were going to play volleyball,” said Kessler.
The Lady Plainsmen overcame a 17-12 deficit to claim the second set. A kill by Krause and an ace by Gabby Falco began their comeback, and a finishing spurt included a kill by Gabby Agresta, a net ball and an out-of-bounds hit.
“We were just trying to get out of serve receive and get into our offense,” said Kessler. “To contend with them, we had to be on offense and we had to bring it.”
A kill by Michelle Paulsen gave Shenendehowa a 16-11 lead in the third set. Burnt Hills answered with a 6-0 run in which Schurman had a kill and a block. Later, Kate Isaken served consecutive aces, Emma Sprotbery scored on a dink and Natalie Albright scored on a kill to highlight a 5-2 push to close out the set.
“Shenendehowa is obviously a very good team,” said Schurman. “After they won the second set, we kind of said, ‘OK, we’re 1-1. Let’s work our hardest to get it back.’ ”
A kill by Krause and a kill and a dink by Mallory Heflin sparked a 5-0 run that gave Shenendehowa a 16-12 advantage in the fourth set. Burnt Hills answered with a 5-1 spurt capped by kills from Meghan Keyes and Schurman to tie it. After Nicole Orabona’s ace and Agresta’s kill pushed Shenendehowa ahead, 20-17, the Spartans countered for the last time.
“They did a great job of answering the call on the road,” said Bynon. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had to battle against Shenendehowa. I remember being down, 11-5, in their gym in game five when we did the old scoring.”
Dillon collected 36 assists and four aces, Lindsay Bynon had 18 digs and Owens came off the bench to contribute four kills and eight blocks.
“We came here as a team. We knew our job, and played volleyball,” said Schurman.
Heflin had 14 kills and eight digs for the Lady Plainsmen, Murphy had nine kills and three blocks, Hayley Macken amassed 42 assists and five kills, and Kaitlin DeWolf finished with 19 service points and 12 digs.
Shenendehowa was the last team to beat Burnt Hills in a league match, 15-10, 15-9, in October 1990.