Niskayuna girls’ volleyball mixes experienced talent with new coach

Rosie Conti, left, talks to head coach Christina Coons at the Niskayuna girls' volleyball team's practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)Rosie Conti, left, talks to head coach Christina Coons at the Niskayuna girls' volleyball team's practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

BY MICHAEL KELLY
Gazette Sportswriter

NISKAYUNA — To say Christina Coons is excited for her first season as the head coach of the Niskayuna girls’ volleyball team would be an understatement.

“This is a dream opportunity for me,” said Coons, whose team opens play Friday at Shaker.

Coons starts up with Niskayuna this year after a decade away from coaching at the high school level. A Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate and volleyball alumna, Coons coached at Stillwater before transitioning into coaching for the very-competitive Lakeside Volleyball Club, which is based in Burnt Hills.

“So, I’ve been [coaching] this level, just not actually at a high school,” Coons said.

Ren Garcia readies to serve at the Niskayuna girls' volleyball team's practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

Ren Garcia readies to serve at the Niskayuna girls’ volleyball team’s practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

Several of Coons’ players this year have actually worked with her before at the club level, such as junior Leila Nayar and senior Julia Wagner. Coons actually coached Nayar this past club season, and the Silver Warrior said the preseason has been a smooth one with getting the new coach acclimated to the program.

“She’s going to be really good for our team,” Nayar said.

Last year, the Silver Warriors had a great deal of success. Niskayuna went into the Section II Class A postseason as the No. 2 seed, and advanced to the championship match before falling to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake — Coons’ alma mater and the section’s top program.

This year, Niskayuna has significant depth and experience within its roster of a dozen players, and is expecting to make a similar run.

“We have seven strong returning players,” Coons said. “They lay a great foundation for us.”

Besides Nayar and Wagner, other returning varsity players include seniors Rosie Conti and Ren Garcia, and juniors Jackie Budka and Diana Pinchuk.

A cheer is practiced at the Niskayuna girls' volleyball team's practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

A cheer is practiced at the Niskayuna girls’ volleyball team’s practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

Coons is putting her imprint on the squad, too, reworking the team to focus more on ball control. That shift — plus the influx of five new varsity players — left the Silver Warriors scrambling a bit to figure out themselves in the first week of preseason practices, but that did not last long.

Leila Nayar is shown at the Niskayuna girls' volleyball team's practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

Leila Nayar is shown at the Niskayuna girls’ volleyball team’s practice on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

“We figured out where people are playing, the lineup, pretty quick,” Wagner said. “That’s been a big help because the sooner you do that, the sooner you can practice with it.”

That was beneficial, too, since the preseason was so short this year for the squad. Niskayuna has its first scrimmage today, just a day before its season-opening match which came less than two weeks after the team’s first practice.

“But all the other teams are getting thrown right into it, too, so it’s not like we’re at a disadvantage,” Nayar said. “We’re ready.”

Coons eagerly agreed with that assessment. With so much talent back from a year ago, the team’s new coach is expecting big things in 2015.

“We’re ready to go,” Coons said.

About the Author

Michael Kelly
Michael Kelly is a sports reporter for Your Clifton Park and Your Niskayuna, weekly print publications of The Daily Gazette. Kelly grew up in Clifton Park and graduated from Shenendehowa High School in 2006. He is also a 2010 graduate of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Kelly's work has been honored by the New York News Publishers Association, the New York State Associated Press Association, and the Associated Press Sports Editors. His work has previously been featured in The (Amsterdam) Recorder, The Saratogian, and Albany Times Union.