Coach Lori Kessler believes her Shenendehowa volleyball team has the talent and experience to put together a very special season. Maybe the best the Lady Plainsmen have ever had.
“We really want to try to get to new places. We want to go where we’ve never gone before,” she said. “We have high hopes of accomplishing things we never have.”
Shenendehowa’s quest to climb higher begins Saturday at the loaded 24-team Penfield Tournament. Come November, the Lady Plainsmen want to be in position for a run at the state final four. They’ve never made it that far, and neither has any other Section II Class AA team.
“It’s good to have long-term goals, for sure, but we have to focus on what’s next,” Kessler said. “It’s one practice at a time, one match at a time.”
Kessler expects to have some tough matches along the way, starting Saturday and in the ever-improving Suburban Council and beyond. Shenendehowa’s target has expanded each year, with every championship it’s added to its resumé.
“We do know people are going to give us their very best matches. We’ve got to play our very best,” said Shenendehowa’s eighth-year coach. “When you play against teams that want to take you down, if you don’t fight through it, something negative can happen.”
Saratoga Springs gave it a solid shot in last year’s sectional final, and prevailed in the first set before Shenendehowa rallied for its fourth consecutive title after downing Guilderland in 2012 and 2011 and topping Bethlehem in 2010.
Shenendehowa lost to Bethlehem in the 2009 Class AA final.
“We’ve got an ‘X’ on our back,” said Kessler. “We’ll have to work for every match. If we do, we can get back there.”
Setter Haley Macken and middle blocker/outside hitter Taylor Murphy will be trying to get to their fifth sectional final after being called up to the varsity late in the season as eighth-graders. Seven other Lady Plainsmen return for their third varsity campaign, and 11 letterwinners are back in all.
Macken was named the SC most valuable player last season and earned a spot on the all-state third team after averaging 32 assists and eight service points per match. Murphy averaged nine kills and three blocks per match for the 18-4 Lady Plainsmen.
“Experience definitely helps. I can remember when they all first started,” said Kessler. “Nerves can get the best of you in pressure situations, but they’ve been there. They’ve experienced fast-paced play and close games. It helps that they know how to handle situations and are able to focus on just playing.”
On Saturday, the Lady Plainemen will be playing in a tournament that includes Baldwinsville and Our Lady of Mercy, the last two New York Class AA champs, as well as state tourney regulars Lancaster, Victor and Oswego. Baldwinsville eliminated Shenendehowa from the state regionals in each of the last four years.
“We never made it that far in that tournament,” said Kessler, whose team went 4-2 in pool play last year and won a pre-quarterfinal before being ousted by Penfield. “There are so many highly competitive teams. There are great teams out there. The play is so fast. We’re hoping to advance farther than we have.”
Kessler said the event at Penfield will be a good opportunity to test Shenendehowa’s new schemes.
“We’ve made changes with our defense, and added some offensive plays,” she said. “We implemented them in team camp and now it’s time to refine them. We’ll see what’s working well and what we need to improve on.”
Shenendehowa begins Suburban Council play next Tuesday at Ballston Spa, and hosts North Division rival Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake the following Thursday. Class A Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake begins the season with a 345-match league winning streak that started in 1990 after a loss to Shenendehowa.
“Burnt Hills has set the bar high for so many years,” said Kessler. “There’s no pressure on us. I want my girls to play to the best of their abilities and we’ll see what happens. You never know.”
Connie Krause, Michelle Paulsen, Kaitlin DeWolf, Lauren Canterbury, Stephanie Fodera, Hannah Elmer and Colleen Connelly are Shenendehowa’s three-year varsity players, while Rosalie Pizziketti and Nicole Orabona begin their second year with Kessler.
“We want to finish with no regrets,” she said. “I know our seniors are going to give it all they’ve got.”
Dillon on watch list
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior setter and outside hitter Jessica Dillon is among 12 New York players on the American Volleyball Coaches Association Under Armour All-America Watch List that was released Monday.
Dillon made the all-state second team as a sophomore, and received first-team accolades as a junior, when she piled up 893 assists and 147 kills.
“The teams she’s been on have made it to four state finals,” said BH-BL coach Gary Bynon. “She’s a fantastic leader on the court and off the court, and she’s one of the top setters in the state.”
Dillon helped the Spartans win state Class A championships in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s been amazing to get to four state finals,” said Dillon. “Getting to a fifth would be a wonderful way to end my high school career.”
Whitley at classic
Niskayuna outfielder Garrett Whitley was among the standouts on the Northeast Mets Scout Team at the second annual Metropolitan Baseball Classic which held its final games Sunday at Citi Field.
Whitley’s best effort came in a loss to undefeated tournament champion Team Elite of Georgia, when he hit two singles and made a running catch in deep center field.
Prior to the Metropolitan event, the Wake Forest-bound Whitley excelled at the East Coast Pro Showcase in Syracuse and at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., where he had the second hardest hit ball, according to TrackMan.
Whitley was named to the all-state Class AA second team following his junior season, when he batted .474 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 25 RBI.