Lexie Ball can recite some of the stories. About how cold it was. About using a different colored ball because of the snow. About the teamwork and desire it took for Burnt Hill-Ballston Lake to win the state field hockey championship in late November of 1987.
“I hear about it all the time,” said the Burnt Hills sophomore, whose mom, Lisa Richardson Ball, scored two goals in that year’s New York Class A final. “She always talks about how they played as a team and how they wanted it so bad. We want the same thing.”
The Spartans will get a chance to repeat history this weekend then they travel to Cicero-North Syracuse High School for the state Class B final four.
Burnt Hills hasn’t had a field hockey team get this far since the Spartans’ fantastic run 26 years ago, when they capped a 21-1-2 season with victories over Orchard Park (3-1) and then Centereach (3-0).
“We didn’t have two or three superstars. We had a group of athletes, and we had a lot of heart,” said Richardson Ball, who was among 17 seniors on that state title team. “That’s what these guys have.”
Burnt Hills will be trying to bring a state Class B title back to Section II for the first time since Glens Falls went the distance in 2001. Shenendehowa is also headed to Syracuse this weekend, and will be attempting to become Section II’s first state Class A champ since Burnt Hills.
“I’m so happy for these girls,” said BH-BL head coach Kelly Vrooman. “We don’t want to talk about ourselves, and how we did it 26 years ago. We want people to talk about them.”
Richardson Ball and Vrooman are the threads that tie the BH-BL teams together.
Richardson Ball, an assistant coach for BH-BL, and Vrooman both scored a goal when Burnt Hills beat Queensbury, 2-0, for the 1987 area championship. When the Spartans topped
Centereach for the state flag, Richardson Ball notched the first goal and Vrooman set it up with last of her 33 assists that year.
Richardson Ball’s second goal that day came after one by Anne Flynn all but clinched it.
“It was really an exciting feeling,” Vrooman said of winning the state title. “We never set it as a goal. We just did it, and no one made a big deal of it. Now there’s parades. It was different back then.”
Burnt Hills’ final game in 1987 was at Hartwick College on a frozen turf field. That same day, Hoosick Falls secured the state Class B championship.
“We were the first team from Burnt Hills to win a state title,” said Richardson Ball, who scored 21 goals that season, before adding with a laugh. “I think we had lunch with the Rotary.”
That team, which outscored its opponents, 77-8, and went unbeaten in the Suburban Council, was inducted into the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. The Dawn O’Neil-coached Spartans posted regional wins against Maine-Endwell and Cortland as part of their state tournament journey.
“Our hardest game was against Maine-Endwell, when we won in strokes,” Richardson Ball recalled. “From there, we went on and dominated.”
Burnt Hills teams saw their 1999, 2007 and 2012 seasons end in the regionals, with Lakeland ousting the Spartans last fall, 7-1, on the way to its fourth straight New York Class B title. Saturday marked a regional breakthrough when the Spartans edged East Syracuse-Minoa in double overtime, 1-0, on a goal by Nicole Beardsley.
Elise Zwicklbauer made a strong run at the cage and collided with ES-M goaltender Rachel Aird, and as the ball slowly rolled toward the cage, Beardsley smacked it home. At the other end, the Spartans recorded their fourth playoff shutout and fifth in a row overall.
“I feel like the whole team has improved,” said Lexie Ball, a sophomore defender whose brother, Logan, played on BH-BL’s state-winning football team last fall. “Sticks, physically, mentally, we’re a lot better team now. The whole team has progressed.”
Burnt Hills cleared a hurdle last season with a win over perennial Section II power Johnstown in the Class B final. Burnt Hills got over an even bigger one last Saturday on the same C-NS turf they’ll revisit this weekend. The Spartans knocked off South Glens Falls, Johnstown and Scotia-Glenville in the sectionals before taking down E-SM.
“If you believe in yourself, things will happen,” said Richardson Ball. “The heart was there, but in previous years, there was a lack of confidence. That’s kicked in. We had to get them believing that getting to states is not an unreachable thing.”
Burnt Hills did not win a game five years ago. Vrooman’s first team four years ago prevailed four times.
“Now, we’re going to states,” said Vrooman.
Burnt Hills will meet Brighton Saturday morning at 11:30, following the state semifinal between Lakeland and Vestal. Sunday’s state final is set for 10 in the morning.
“You have to take it one more degree. You have to believe when you think you’re finished, you’re not,” said Vrooman. “We’re not going to beat them with sticks, but with heart. That one more degree.”
The Burnt Hills girls’ soccer team and both of its volleyball teams will also be striving for state championships this weekend. Burnt Hills won state girls’ volleyball titles in 2012 and 2011, boosting its overall total to five.