Gary Bynon has a wave of hitters he can call on.
If the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls' volleball coach wants to run a two-setter system, he's got the players to make it work.
His roster also includes a trio of veteran liberos, and he’d be comfortable with any of those defensive specialists on the court.
Bynon has another talented cast for sure, and they're awfully hungry, too. Eleven of the 15 are back from a team that last fall came within one victory of a third consecutive state championship.
"That's motivated us this year to leave everything out there,” all-state senior setter/outside hitter Jessica Dillon said of last year’s three-set loss to Pittsford Sutherland in the state Class A final. “We didn't have the spark we usually do. We settled instead of pushing it to a higher level.”
A sixth New York title is the last of many goals for a team that’s made a habit of getting to the final four.
“It is a goal,” said Bynon. “We got there last year, and we could have played better. That’s motivating them. We’re going to keep battling for that.”
Burnt Hills extended its Suburban Council win streak to 345 matches last season, claimed its 19th sectional crown under Bynon and 12th in a row, and won its 15th regional flag and 12th consecutively to make it back to the final four. The Spartans slipped to 5-5 in state championships after their setback against Pittsford Sutherland.
“It's always in the back of our mind," said Dillon. "It makes us want to work harder."
The ultimate objective for BH-BL is to play its best match on the final day of the season.
"We really want to work on speed and defense, and coming together as a team," said Dillon. "At the end of the season, we'll still be working on those things. As we grow as a team, we want those skills to go with us."
One point of emphasis this season will be blocking at the net. The Spartans lost all-state outside hitter Kathleen Schurman to graduation, while middle blocker Jaleah Owens is not playing in order to focus on her track career. Owens supplied an important spark off the bench as a junior.
“We can dig in the back, but we’ve got to block,” said Bynon, whose veteran net players include Kelly Waters, Natalie Albright, Samantha Scott, Meghan Keyes, Emma Sprotbery and all-stater Natalie Schurman. “It’s not a cliche anymore. It’s true.”
Staunch defense has been a staple in the BH-BL program since Bynon took charge in 1988.
“It’s all about playing defense. We focus on defense,” said Dillon, a five-year varsity veteran. “At the end of the day, defense is what wins.”
Burnt Hills has liberos Katrina Little, Molly Gallagher and Kate Isaksen back from last year’s 25-5 team, and a returning setter in Jessica Fowler. The newcomers are Megan Cullen, Olivia Lewendowski, Lexi Pawlusik and Georgia transfer Ashley Apfel.
"How we support each other. Having a defensive attitude. Not looking past games. The little things will ultimately determine our success," said Bynon. "These are things we've talked about for 27 years."
In each of the last 26 years, the Spartans have won outright or shared a Suburban Council division title. Their league debut it Sept. 2 at home against Shaker, and a trip to four-time defending Section II Class AA champ Shenendehowa follows on Sept. 4. Shenendehowa was the last team to beat BH-BL in league play in 1990.
Saratoga Springs is No. 4 in the nation and No. 2 in New York state (all classes) in the girls’ preseason cross country rankings put out by Tully Runners.
Rankings are based in part on 2013 performances by returning runners and their projected improvement.
Saratoga has seven of its top eight runners back from last year’s team in seniors Estella Smith and Spencer Hayes, junior Gabrielle Robens and freshmen Peyton Engborg, Keellyn Cummings, Carley Vetter and Samantha Vetter. Samantha Vetter was named the state 7th/8th-Grader of the Year by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
Fayetteville-Manlius, which has six of its top seven runners back, is No. 1 in both the national and state rankings. Fayetteville-Manlius placed second at the 2013 Nike Cross Nationals after winning the event the previous seven years.
In the New York all-class rankings, Section II has eight teams in the top 26, with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake No. 4, Shenendehowa No. 5, Queensbury No. 7 and Colonie No. 9. Shaker (17), Holy Names (22) and Guilderland (26) follow.
Fayetteville-Manlius and Saratoga sit ahead of Elmira District and Shenendehowa in the New York Class A rankings. Burnt Hills is No. 1 among the New York Class B teams followed by Queensbury.
On watch list
Record-setting goal scorer Brittany Plant of Queensbury, Niskayuna’s Katherine Benson, Sophia Constantine and Marika Contompasis, and Erick Kwizera of Albany have made the TopDrawerSoccer All-America Watch List.
Plant set a state single-season record with 73 goals as a sophomore and was named the Foothills Council’s top player and a Section II Class A all-star.
The Niskayuna trio helped the Silver Warriors win the 2013 Section II Class AA championship, the program’s first area title since 2006. Contompasis was second on the team with 16 goals, and Constantine sparked a defense that surrendered only 17 goals.
Kwizera topped the Falcons with 14 goals last season and was selected the Big 10’s top player.
What they’re doing
Several Niskayuna graduates, including defenseman Ryan Alden and goalkeeper Noah Fossner, helped Original Flavor win its second straight Men’s Open 2 championship at the recent Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Classic.
Original Flavor outscored its four opponents, 51-17, and Alden was selected the division’s most valuable player. He was joined by former Silver Warriors Luke Goldstock, Tyler Pantalone, Steve D’Amario and Mark Bryan, and Christian Brothers Academy grad Greg Rogowski, among others.
Original Flavor (Glenville) beat Stixx-N-Stones (Massachusetts), 10-9, in the title game.
Former Guilderland standouts Cort and Blake Kim, Shaker grad Jason Gifford and Columbia product John Keller were part of the Pure Performance (East Greenbush) team that claimed its fourth straight Men’s Masters 3 championship with a 10-5 win over Two Rivers Old Guys (New Jersey).