BURNT HILLS — Though it took place last fall, Christina Pedone remembers the play like it was yesterday, when she broke away from the Queensbury defense, faked right, and then split the pads of Megan Chamberlain.
Her second-half goal stood up in a 1-0 victory on the turf at Schuylerville, and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake had its fifth straight Section II Class B field hockey championship.
"We would love to be in the position we were last year, and the years before," Pedone, a senior forward, said. "Going in, we know we have to take it step by step."
The building process began earlier this week with the opening of practice across the state for fall sports teams. Burnt Hills is among the varsity teams out there with plenty of game experience and something extra special to go after.
"There's new excitement," BH-BL senior forward/midfielder Courtney Kruzikas said. "New things to learn. Excitement for what's to come."
Burnt Hills can equal the Section II record for consecutive field hockey championships with one more. Hoosick Falls won six consecutive area flags (Class B and C) from 1986-91, and Germantown strung six in a row (Class C) from 1982-87. Johnstown is the only other team with five straight (Class B and A), from 1993-97.
"At the end of eighth grade, I got pulled up for the playoffs," Kruzikas said. "I've had the pleasure of playing in several championship games. Getting there again would be a great experience, but you can't get there tomorrow. For me and the other seniors, being our last year, it's day to day and love every moment of it."
Burnt Hills is a much different team than the one that began the 2016 season with only three varsity tested players in Pedone, Kruzikas and midfielder Danielle Kempf. Kempf, an all-state selection, is the key loss among four seniors who graduated.
"We were doing scrimmages the other day and we were really connecting," said Pedone, who led BH-BL with 14 goals last year. "We have a good chemistry. We all know how to play together."
Spartans coach Kelly Vrooman will be using the next two months to further mold them into a group of what she hopes will be championship players.
"It's no secret getting to the sectional final is our goal," Vrooman said Wednesday after her team began a late afternoon practice with a long run around the Burnt Hills athletic facility. "Our focus right now is strength and fitness. If you don't have fitness, you can't compete, especially in the As."
Burnt Hills is a member of the Class A-dominated Suburban Council, which includes Shenendehowa, the state champ at that level in 2013 and again last season. Burnt Hills went 9-5 in the league last year to place third behind Shenendehowa (14-0) and Saratoga Springs (12-2), and followed with its sectional title-run that started with a 2-0 win over Emma Willard.
The Spartans finished 12-7 overall after a 2-0 regional loss to Vestal. Burnt Hills' 2015 and 2013 editions reached the state semifinals.
"I love playing in the As," Vrooman said. "It challenges us. Makes us so much better."
Burnt Hills' got better in each of the past several years and peaked come playoff time. In its five Section II title-game wins, the Spartans have beaten Queensbury three times, as well as South Glens Falls and Johnstown by a scoring margin of 12-1.
"Every year, we've had to build it up," Vrooman said. "Day by day, game by game, month by month. As a team, we want to refine our play and polish it. As individuals, we want them to get better in their role. When everyone does their job, that's when things really click."
Vrooman will admit her practices aren't always fun, but said the conditioning work is necessary for success.
"Coach wants us to be in the best shape," Burnt Hills junior goalkeeper Rachel Kamppila said. "We don't complain a lot, because we know when coach pushes us, it's best for the team. Every little thing we do is to get us better. Every sprint is to get us faster."
Vrooman characterized her team as athletic, with many of its players involved in several sports.
"They are passionate about field hockey," Vrooman said. "They may not be all-year field hockey players, but they want to be here and try to help us do big things."
Burnt Hills has seven seniors including SC all-star midfielder Andrea Desrochers, while its junior group includes another SC all-star in defender Sadie Mitchell.
"We don't have one good player," Pedone said. "We have a group of good players.