A raucous crowd in the Shenendehowa gym provided a postseason atmosphere Thursday night, and the Burnt Hill-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team felt right at home.
The Spartans rolled through the first two sets, then responded in the fourth after the Lady Plainsmen played a sharp third, emerging with a 25-16, 25-15, 20-25, 25-20 Suburban Council victory.
“We say, ‘Everything they say, you take it as fuel. You don’t look at them, you don’t say anything back to them. You take everything they say, and it fuels you,’ and that’s what we did,” said senior Burnt Hills setter Jessica Dillon.
“We’re getting used to blocking everything out. I’m to the point where I don’t even hear it.”
The noise was only one of the external pressures on the Spartans. They also carry a Suburban Council winning streak that stretches back to 1990, when they lost a match to Shen. Thursday’s victory pushed the streak to 348 straight wins in the conference.
“None of us know what [pressure] my kids play under,” BH-BL coach Gary Bynon said. “I can’t be more proud of a bunch of kids to come into this atmosphere and answer early — quiet the crowd early. That is a bunch of guts. I’ve said it before, I envy them so much for what they can do; we’re a good volleyball team, but what they can do, mentally, it’s unbelievable.”
Just as they have done so often while playing deep into the postseason — state champs in 2011 and 2012 and finalists last season — the Spartans shut out the noise of the home crowd and went to work.
Outside hitter Natalie Schurman was the first weapon Dillon looked to, and she was reliable as ever. Schurman finished with 12 kills, seven blocks, 13 digs and four aces.
The Spartans (3-0 Suburban Council, 3-0 overall) started changing it up a little and occasionally moving the offense through Kelly Waters in the middle.
Waters booked 18 kills and three blocks in the match.
“Natalie’s one of our best hitters, so I love setting her. She’s one of our best players; she’s all-around great,” Dillon said. “My favorite thing is, when she gets hot, keep setting her, but then when they key in on her, that’s when my other players can shine, too. That’s my job as a setter, to make my teammates look good, and they make me look good.”
Dillon handed out 33 assists in the win. She set up five different hitters in the last 10 Spartans’ points of the fourth set, finding Meghan Keyes, Emma Sprotbery, Schurman and Waters in that span. Sprotbery ended the match with an outside hit off a pair of Shen blockers.
The kills are great, but before the season started, Bynon spoke about the need for the Spartans to develop defensively at the net and get some blocks.
Not only were the blocks key, but the many times the girls in front were able to just get a touch helped the back line clean up a lot of hits that would have been a bit more difficult.
“You’re going to see one of the very best back rows in the state, defensively,” Bynon said. “Our deal is, can we block? And we touched the ball. We got a lot of touches against much bigger players.”
Libero Katrina Little led that back line with 17 digs.
When the Spartans erased a 6-3 deficit early in the third set, pulling even after one of the Lady Plainsmen hit the ball into the net, it looked like the set might go the way of the first two, with Burnt Hills pulling away early and not looking back.
The Lady Plainsmen (1-1, 1-2), though, recovered quickly and rallied in large part thanks to the passing of Hayley Macken and the hitting of Lauren Canterbury. Macken’s service also came at a key point in the set. After she set up Canterbury for a kill that gave Shen a 13-11 lead, Macken served for six straight points to pull ahead, 19-11.
The Spartans fought back to trail, 22-20, but a pair of miss-hits sandwiched around a sly tip by Macken wrapped up a 25-20 win for the Lady Plainsmen.
“We didn’t want to go down, and they played that third set with heart,” said Shen coach Lori Kessler. “They clicked together as a team and had very few errors. So going into that fourth set, we were hoping to continue that, but it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Macken finished with 32 assists, 13 service points and five aces. Canterbury had 10 kills, and Michelle Paulsen had nine kills and four blocks.