SARATOGA SPRINGS — Shenendehowa passed another title test Thursday night, but only after some anxious moments against a Niskayuna volleyball team that never backed down.
Niskayuna took the second set to pull even and had a lead midway through the third, but the Plainsmen regrouped to claim their ninth straight Section II Class AA championship at Saratoga High School.
The Plainsmen (No. 1 seed, 21-3) used a key 7-0 run in that third set to overcome an 11-10 deficit, and started the fourth set with a 7-1 spurt that pointed them toward regional competition and a possible return to the state final four.
"When you drop a set in a championship match it, can take a lot out of you," Shenendehowa coach Lori Kessler said after her team prevailed 25-16, 21-25, 25-18, 25-12. "We came back exceptionally strong. We stuck to the game plan and executed."
Senior setter Ashley Lavigne played a big role in the put-away fourth set with four consecutive aces to cap Shenendehowa's 7-1 start. Lavigne who finished with eight aces, also delivered two of them in the 7-0 run that highlighted the third set.
"That brought great momentum to our side," Kessler said of Lavigne's four consecutive aces. "I could see our players ignite and they deflated a little."
"I never served like that before," Lavigne said. "I had so much adrenaline. I wanted it and I know my team wanted it."
Niskayuna (No. 3 seed, 15-4) wanted it as well, and showed that in a gallant bid to snare the program's first sectional crown since 2007.
Niskayuna had lost to Shenendehowa in early October in three sets.
"We came out strong against them a few weeks ago and had a big lead in the first set, and even though we lost 25-22, we showed good things in that match" Niskayuna coach Christina Coons said. "We had a good match in the semifinals [a 3-1 win against Ballston Spa]. For those reasons we had a good feeling. We thought we could win tonight."
Outside hitter Stefana Stan paced Niskayuna with 16 kills and 10 digs, and fellow front-liner Cat Schiavi had five kills and eight digs.Stan slugged three kills in a 4-0, second-set run that boosted Niskayuna's advantage to 18-12.
"After the second set, we came together as a team," said Shenendehowa junior middle blocker Brianna Woods. "We knew that they had the energy, and we needed to get the energy back."
A kill by Farah Elgala gave Niskayuna an 11-10 lead in third set before Shenendehowa strung seven points, with Olivia DeBortoli capping the run with a kill and a block after Lavigne's consecutive aces.
"We played them October 4th or 5th, and they [Niskayuna] got better," Lavigne said. "They had so much drive."
Woods had 10 kills, including hard hits that ended the first and third sets in Shenendehowa's favor. DeBortoli had eight kills and seven blocks, Izzy Burns totaled 41 digs, and Lavigne collected 37 assists and 13 digs to go with her eight aces.
"Those aces really came in handy," Woods said.
Shenendehowa's lead grew to 20-6 in the fourth set, after Lavigne's serving had set the tone.
"I thought we weren't out of it," Coons said. "We were only six points down. I told my team it's zero-zero. We couldn't quite finish."
Niskayuna was the fifth different team Shenendehowa defeated in its nine-year championship streak under Kessler's direction. Shenendehowa will play the Section III champ a week from Saturday in a regional final at 2 p.m. at Gloversville High School.
"The culture of this team is to work hard," Kessler said. "Having them win a championship, no one deserves it more."
Shenendehowa's nine straight titles is the third-longest streak in Section II tournament history behind the 15 put together by Lake George from 1989-2003 and the 17 in a row Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake reached with Thursday's 25-12, 25-21, 25-13 Class A sweep of South Glens Falls.
Freshmen Carlie Rzeszotarski and Callie Chevalier combined for 23 kills, and sophomore Claire Isaksen assisted on 32 points and served five of Burnt Hills' 14 aces as the Spartans continued their sectional domination.
"The whole package," Burnt Hills coach Gary Bynon said of what pleased him most in the program's 24th title-match win. "I was happy with the passing and the tempo. The way we drove the ball and were aggressive. The way we kept them off balance at the net. We came together and we answered their little runs."
Isaksen was announced as the Suburban Council most valuable player after her performance helped the state's No. 1 team earn a homecourt regional semifinal match with the Section III champ on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
"All day and before the match my heart was racing," Isaksen said. "During the Niskayuna-Shenendehowa match, coach told me to go sit in the hall. When I was there I was thinking, 'What can I do in this game to make it great.'"
Isaksen was one piece of a strong collective effort that saw Morgan Bohlke end the first set with a kill, Samantha Versocki end the second set with another kill, and Chloe Lewandowski end the third set with the last of BH-BL's 14 aces.
"We ran our offense and the hitters were finishing," Isaksen said. "Our passes was exceptional. It was so cool to see all of us come together and play like that."
South Glens Falls (No. 2 seed, 16-2) was the last team to beat Burnt Hills (No. 1 seed, 25-1) in a sectional final, in 2001. Thursday's sectional title-match triumph was Burnt Hills' 21st in 22 years.
"I told them after game one, be ready," Bynon said. "Sure enough, it's a four-point game a couple of times. We kept our cool and kept after it."
Grace Isaksen, one of Burnt Hills' four seniors, anchored the defense with 19 digs. Rzeszotarski had a team-high 12 kills to go with three blocks.
The Section II Class B (Hudson Falls vs. Broadalbin-Perth, 7 p.m.), Class C (Fonda-Fultonville vs. Voorheesville, 5 p.m.) and Class D (Mayfield vs. Galway, 3 p.m.) championship matches are Saturday at Saratoga.