RENSSELAER — Shenendehowa boys’ volleyball coach John Coletta said it’s no secret why his Plainsmen are the latest dynasty at his school.
“It’s all about the simple things: setting, serving, playing defense and scoring at the net,” Colette said after the unbeaten Plainsmen (22-0) won their fifth straight Section II Division 1 title with a 25-19, 25-18, 25-13 victory over Suburban Council rival Bethlehem Friday night at Rensselaer High School.
In the Division 2 championship, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake bounced back from an unusual substitution penalty that took eight points off the board in the first game and still cruised past first-year program CBA 25-10, 25-10, 25-17 to win its seventh consecutive championship.
Both teams advance to regional play next week.
Shenendehowa got off to a slow start against the Eagles, trailing 8-3 in the opening game of their match. But then the Plainsmen began to click. Junior outside hitter Tyler Christensen put down some key kills, and junior Jason Aubrey registered three stuff-blocks down the stretch as the Plainsmen pulled away for the opening-game win.
In the second game, Christensen continued his strong play up front, senior Matthew Van Dusen added back-to-back serving aces, as well as a pair of kills at the end of the second game to clinch that win.
Game three was a little tighter throughout, but Christensen (three kills two aces), junior Will Licata (two kills) and Van Dusen (five kills) provided plenty of firepower for the Plainsmen.
“We knew we had to be consistent in all phases of the game. That was the key,” Colette said. “We’ve got a lot of depth, but we know Bethlehem very well. In our games we had against them this year they were all really close. They are one of our rivals that always plays us very well.
“I would say our program is a work in progress and in process. Before we started on this run, we lost a lot. We were on the other side of things, but we changed our philosophy and the way we did things here. It’s worked out great.”
Senior co-captain/setter Rohan Gangaraju said he was thrilled to be going to the state tournament once again.
“This means so much. We worked very hard during the off-season for this,” Gangaraju said. “Our unbeaten record really means nothing right now. It’s all about going to the states.”
Senior Joe Meyer echoed Gangaraju’s sentiments.
“We worked very hard for this,” he said. “We knew we had to come in here with a lot of energy, and we did. At this stage, everybody is 0-0, no matter what the records are.”
Meanwhile, BH-BL was a huge favorite against the 0-16 Brothers, who were fielding a varsity team for the first time this season.
“It was really hard for the guys to keep their focus,” said veteran BH-BL coach Paul Sander, who substituted freely in the third game before gradually putting some of his regulars back in. “We played pretty well tonight, especially at the net, but we definitely lost some focus out there.”
The Spartans jumped out to a 16-2 lead in the opening game, but an unusual substitution error took eight points off the board for BH-BL and gained one for CBA, changing the score to 8-3.
“It was supposed to be a libero switch, and a substitution, but our normal lineup was different because of an injury, and things got mixed up with the rotation,” Sander said. “They should have caught it sooner. The rules say that you have to take all points off the board during that change. That’s why they changed the score.”
But even losing those points didn’t derail BH-BL, which was simply too talented for the new CBA program.
Co-captain Jake Baker led the Spartans with 13 kills, while sophomore setter Aidan Calhoun added 30 assists.
“It means a lot for our program,” Baker said of the win. “We are very proud of the way we played, and it was a good opportunity for some of our younger players to get that experience in a big match. We will have to play a little better in the regionals.”
Co-captain Ben Rzeszotarski said the Spartans have been pointing to this moment for a year.
“Ever since we lost in the regionals last year, we’ve been waiting to get back to the states again,” he said. “Our goal is to win a state title. That’s our end game.”