There are no givens in the semifinal stage of the girls’ state volleyball tournament, not even for a team that in the past 13 years made it through 10 times and went on to claim the top prize on five occasions.
That would be Burnt Hill-Ballston Lake, which on Saturday will make what has become its annual trip to the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“Pool play is an interesting thing,” Spartans coach Gary Bynon said after Monday’s practice. “You’re trying, if no one goes 0-6, to get four wins against the best teams in the state. They want to win, too.”
Burnt Hills was one point away from being the best in New York for a sixth time last fall when it built leads of 25-24 and 26-25 against Pittsford Sutherland in the fifth set of the championship match. Pittsford Sutherland strung three points together to deny the Spartans.
“We can’t go into Saturday thinking about Sunday,” said senior outside hitter Natalie Schurman, who will be appearing in her fourth final four. “We’ve got to think about every point. We’ve got to have a will to win on every play.”
Bynon was not happy with the way his team played in its regional sweep of Oswego or when it did the same against Columbia in the Section II Class A final.
“We could have played better in the sectional final and with more emotion in the regional,” Bynon said. “Usually, I’m talking about us peaking at this time. We haven’t played great.”
Bynon said his Spartans will need to be on in all facets to advance. Their pool opponents will be Kings Park, Walter Panas and Williamsville East, which ousted Pittsford Sutherland in a five-set regional. Pittsford Sutherland not only beat Burnt Hills in last year’s title match, but also in the 2013 and 2010 New York finals.
“There’s going to be some big-time teams up there,” said Bynon, whose Spartans will play each opponent in a two-setter. “Walter Panas has had a fantastic year. Kings Park has built a tradition. They’ve reloaded with some younger kids to go with a couple of key holdovers. Williamsville East has beaten everyone except for St. Mary’s-Lancaster, and they were the best team in the state last year.”
Burnt Hills was best in its class in 2012 (beating Pittsford Sutherland) and 2011 (beating Our Lady of Mercy), and before that in 2005, 2004 and 2002.
The last time the Spartans failed to reach the title match was in 2009.
“We have a chance to get back [to the final],” Bynon said of his 30-1 team. “When you get chances, you get there by doing the little things.”
Burnt Hills has nine players who have been to the final four before.
“That’s one of those intangibles, being there before,” Bynon said. “They know how to handle pool play. You play at the highest level in the state, stop, and play again. I think that experience will help us.”
Burnt Hills had an up and down semifinal last year, taking two from King Park, losing two to Pittsford Sutherland, and than taking two from John Jay-Cross River to advance.
“After being so close last year, winning the whole thing would be awesome,” senior libero Kate Isaksen said. “But we’ve got to get through Saturday first.”
Section II will have five state semifinal representatives for the first time, with Shenendehowa (Class AA), Hudson Falls (Class B), Broadalbin-Perth (Class C) and Mayfield (Class D) joining Burnt Hills.
Mayfield is the only team among the group that wasn’t a final-four participant last year. Broadalbin-Perth lost to Eden in the Class B final, while Shenendehowa and Hudson Falls were eliminated in the pool segment.
Streaking Amsterdam (7-3), with its seven-game winning streak, will take on Our Lady of Lourdes (Section I, 9-2) at Dietz Stadium in Kingston Friday night at 8 in a state Class A semifinal matchup.
In Saturday semifinal action at Dietz Stadium, Greenwich (11-0) battles Liberty (Section IX, 11-0) in a Class C game at 11 a.m., Schuylerville (11-0) meets Westlake (Section I, 9-2) in a Class B game at 3 and Saratoga Springs (10-0) goes against New Rochelle (Section I, 11-0) in a Class AA contest at 7.
Amsterdam and Saratoga Springs received regional byes, while Greenwich beat Gouverneur 49-13 and Schuylerville topped Franklin Academy 44-12.
Last week, Lourdes rallied for a 21-20 overtime win against Cornwall, Liberty beat Dobbs Ferry 33-21, Westlake beat Marlboro 14-5, and New Rochelle held off Newburgh Free Academy 21-20 after going up 21-0.
What they’re doing
Mekeel Christian Academy graduate Collin Stewart scored a team-high 19 points in Monmouth’s 84-81 overtime win against UCLA Friday at Pauley Pavilion.
Monmouth went on a closing 9-1 run, with the former Gazette All-Area first-teamer sinking two free throws with 18.9 seconds left to give the Hawks an 82-81 lead in their first win against a Pac-12 opponent.
Stewart, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior, went 6-for-6 from the line and had four rebounds, two steals and two blocks.