ALBANY — It spent the last year working toward trying to win its program’s first state championship, a dream the Shenendehowa boys’ volleyball team believed it could realize this season.
When Shenendehowa knew it had come up short, it hit the Plainsmen hard. Making things more difficult, Shenendehowa still had one more set to play at Saturday’s Division 1 state championship tournament at Albany Capital Center.
So Shenendehowa head coach John Coletta made an unorthodox move prior to his team’s final set of pool play. He called timeout before the set’s first serve to make sure the Plainsmen were ready for their final game of the season.
“Why are we here?” Coletta said he told his players. “We’re here to represent our school. We’re here to represent each other, our community, our parents, friends, family. Let’s finish together as a program.”
“Finish strong and follow through,” Shenendehowa senior Matt Van Dusen said was the Plainsmen’s aim coming out of that huddle. “We had one more set to play with these people we’ve been playing with all year. We didn’t want to show up defeated.”
The Plainsmen didn’t, instead offering up a spirited attempt to close their season on a winning note. Section XI’s Sachem North, though, didn’t cooperate and won that final set 25-22. Still, Shenendehowa was able to leave the court for the final time this season satisfied with its effort.
“We just had to go out there and give it our all. We knew we’re never going to all play with each other again,” Shenendehowa senior Trevor Connors said. “It was the last time. We realized that, and some people were emotional just because we’d come such a long way.”
Shenendehowa went 0-4 in pool play with 25-23 and 25-18 losses to Section V’s McQuaid Jesuit, then 25-11 and 25-22 defeats against Sachem North, and failed to advance to the championship match from the three-team pool play. The prior weekend, though, saw Shenendehowa qualify for its third trip to the state tournament with back-to-back road wins. The Plainsmen topped Suffern on its home court in three sets in a regional semifinal on a Friday night, then went the next day to Fayetteville-Manlius and won a regional championship with a five-set victory against Cicero-North Syracuse.
“We spent this whole year together working really hard,” said Van Dusen, whose Plainsmen went undefeated in the Suburban Council and won their program’s fifth consecutive Section II title.
Things could have turned out better, potentially, for the Plainsmen if they had been able Saturday to capitalize on an opportunity in their first set. After trailing McQuaid Jesuit 7-1 to start that game, Shenendehowa rallied to lead 22-18. McQuaid Jesuit, though, closed that set with another 7-1 run.
“That first set could have changed the story,” Coletta said.
After losing both games to McQuaid Jesuit, Shenendehowa went into its second two sets knowing it needed a sweep. Once it lost its first game against Sachem North, the Plainsmen knew their season only had one set to go.
“We just tried to put everything we had into it,” said Van Dusen, one of Shenendehowa’s eight seniors.
“And we went for it,” Connors said. “Why not? We had nothing to lose.”
For the day, junior Tyler Christensen led Shenendehowa with nine kills, five digs and four aces, while senior Kellan Kennedy had eight kills. Senior Rohan Gangaraju added 26 assists, Van Dusen had six kills and Connors had six digs.
In Saturday’s Division 1 championship match, McQuaid Jesuit defeated Sachem North in five sets. Not to make that final stung for the Plainsmen, but Coletta said that hurt wouldn’t stick for too long with his players, who accomplished so much during the 2019 season.
“Our goals, even back in the summer, were to be playing the best teams in the state at the end,” Coletta said, “and we met that goal.”