BURNT HILLS — Claire Isaksen served an ace in both an early run and the late one when Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake beat Shenendehowa in the key third set in Tuesday's girls' volleyball showdown. Midway through that set, the sophomore setter scored another way, showing pass before tipping the ball over the net to an open space.
"I am getting to the point of, 'Where is the best time to do it? When is the best spot?'" Isaksen said. "It's another attack we can use."
While scoring points is one of the many things Isaksen has provided in her first year as a Spartan starter, her primary role is to set up her teammates, and in that aspect she has also excelled.
"She can do a lot of good things with a volleyball," Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said. "She has an uncanny ability to get the ball to the pin [net antenna]."
That is something Isaksen has been working on since she began setting balls for teammates to kill as a third-grader with the Lakeside Volleyball Club.
"Every day I just try to get better," said the 14-year-old who registered 41 assists Tuesday to boost her season total to 380. "I want to get my volleyball IQ higher. Before practice I'll work on my game. I know it's a big spot to fill."
Avery Pollard was Burnt Hills' starting setter the past two years when the Spartans won their 15th and 16th consecutive Section II and regional championships, and again advanced to the state final four.
"She was a big influence. I look up to her," Isaksen said of Pollard. "I can still remember watching her and thinking, 'I can't wait to do that.'"
The 5-foot-8 Isaksen has taken full advantage of her opportunity, and has gained the admiration of teammates with her physical tools, game smarts and cool demeanor as bodies fly left and right around her.
"Setting is such a special position," BH-BL senior outside hitter Lindsey DeBonis said. "You need to be level-headed and mentally strong, and because she is, it helps everyone. It's super impressive, especially for her age."
"What I love about Claire is she thinks the same way a coach does," Bynon said. "If someone comes off the bench, she'll set them. If someone misses a set, she'll set them again. She wants them to be successful. She wants to build their confidence."
Isaksen often sets the ball after a pass from her sister, senior libero Grace Isaksen.
"When she gets a big [defensive] dig and I get to connect with her, it's an awesome thing," the younger Isaksen said. "It's so cool to be playing with her in her senior year."
While part of Grace Isaksen's job is to hit the floor in an attempt to keep the ball alive, Claire Isaksen will willingly do so, as well.
"She is so athletic and she is always hustling to get to balls," DeBonis said. "There will be a ball no one thinks she'll get, and she'll get it. That motivates us [all] to hustle."
"She is able, in crazy times, to get a hit on the ball," Bynon said.
And that often allows Burnt Hills' net players like DeBonis, Hannah Shell, Morgan Bohlke, Sam Versocki and Carlie Rzeszotarski to do their thing with a swing.
"I love to set them up," Claire Isaksen said. "It's such a rush when they get a great kill."
Their setter can score some, too, from the back line with her aces and from the net with her timely tips.
"She is one of our weapons," Bynon said. "We will go into a match and tell her to tip the first one so we can get them worrying about that. Any time you can get a team worrying and not knowing what's coming, it's a good thing."