ALBANY — Twice during the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Boys’ Division II Volleyball Championships, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake had to dig deep and rely on its leadership to bounce back from adversity.
The Spartans were up to the task each time, but eventually, Bellmore J.F.K. of Section VIII unleashed too much firepower at the net and handed the Capital Region’s only representative at the boys’ state event a 25-21, 25-22, 14-25, 25-20 defeat in the finals Saturday at the Albany Capital Center.
Burnt Hills went 1-1 after the first two games of pool play against Eden of Section VI Saturday morning, In order to advance to the finals, the Spartans had to win at least one of the two remaining games in pool play against powerful Bellmore J.F.K.
“It was critical for us to win that second game against Eden and then to win the tiebreaker in pool play,” Burnt Hills coach Paul Sander said. “It’s an unusual format.
After the first two games against Eden, we purposefully didn’t tell our players that winning the tiebreaker meant they only needed to win one of the two games against Bellmore to make the finals. It showed great leadership by our seniors and our captains to do just that.”
The Spartans got two key kills late in the game from junior outside hitter Jake Baker to post a 25-21 win over Bellmore J.F.K. in the third round of pool play to secure a spot in the finals against those same Cougars.
In the finals, the Cougars won the first two closely played games, and the Spartans were within one game of being ousted from the tournament, but they roared back to dominate Bellmore J.F.K. in the third game, winning by 11 points.
“Going down two games in the finals and then coming back like that was a very strong effort,” Sander said. “We competed the entire match. A few phases didn’t go our way, but we didn’t quit. Playing against Bellmore in pool play right before the finals, at least we got a chance to see what we were up against. It was a long day.
Maybe some day, they will go to a two-day tournament, but at least we got a little bit of rest before the finals.”
Sander was asked what his team did differently against the Cougars in the third game of the finals to make things interesting.
“It came down to our seniors and our captains not wanting this to be their last game of the year,” Sander said. “Nobody was quitting, and our experienced guys knew it wasn’t over.”
Senior captain Derek Haughey said it was important for the Spartans to give everything they had.
“It was the last time we were going to play this season, and we didn’t want there to be any regrets,” Haughey said. “We wanted to let it all out on the court today. In that third game, we just wanted to be more aggressive and still try to cut down on our mistakes at the same time. We just wanted to do everything we could to stay in the match. But that Tyler Anderson guy is very good. He’s tall, and he can jump. He was hard to stop.”
Anderson, a senior outside hitter, kept the pressure on the Spartans throughout the finals with an assortment of kills at the net. He recorded seven kills in the second game alone.
For Burnt Hills, Baker and Haughey were both named to the all-tournament team, and Burnt Hills earned the tournament’s team sportsmanship award.
“We tried to keep our energy up,” Baker said. “When we made our comeback, it was a case of us trying to focus as hard as we could. All of the seniors and our captains were telling us to stay positive. We didn’t give up.”
Sander added that playing the state finals close to home, unlike last year when it was contested on Long Island, was special for the Spartans.
“We were able to sleep in our own beds, and we had no long trip this year. That was an advantage,” Sander said. “The tournament is going to be up here for the next couple of years I’m told, so this will be a lot nice for the local teams.”