CLIFTON PARK — It was a frantic, wild affair last fall when Niskayuna and Shenendehowa tangled in the semifinals of the Section II Division I boys’ volleyball postseason tournament. The Plainsmen emerged that day after dropping the first two sets, and won the area title days later.
Wednesday’s regular season matchup was a decidedly more calm affair. During the first set, Shenendehowa head coach John Coletta called for timeout and it wasn’t to discuss strategy.
“What we’re missing is energy,” he said he told his players. “We have none.”
Shenendehowa woke up to pull away from Niskayuna in the first set, then continued to a straight-sets 25-22, 25-18, 25-23 victory. Junior Brendan Spulnick finished with 15 kills while senior Donovan Suguitan added 10 kills and five aces in the victory, a result which left Shenendehowa at 8-2 and Niskayuna at 6-4 within Suburban Council play.
“We had a couple aces and we got going, then we got some big kills from [Spulnick] and that got us going even more,” said junior Dylan Urbanski, who had 27 assists for Shenendehowa.
Niskayuna’s first-year head coach Thaddeus Sipe tried to let his team play through as much of Wednesday’s match as possible without calling timeouts. He wanted to see his team try to work through problems on its own, but the Silver Warriors struggled throughout the match to play with a sense of urgency.
“We need to make sure we’re keeping our intensity up throughout the game,” Sipe said. “This game started out very low-key, it was going point for point, but then Shen brought some intensity and we didn’t bring it quickly enough.”
Spulnick ended the first set with a kill for Shenendehowa. The Plainsmen built off that play to start the second set, opening up a 13-7 lead before cruising the rest of the way to a 2-0 advantage. Niskayuna struggled to start the third set, as senior Damien Whittemore had to leave the lineup with a badly jammed finger. Without Whittemore in the game, Niskayuna fell behind 19-9 before putting together a rally that came up a couple points short.
“That was tough to lose him, especially defensively,” Sipe said of Whittemore, Niskayuna’s usual presence at the net.
Both teams used Wednesday’s match as a scouting mission for this year’s postseason, where Niskayuna and Shenendehowa could again meet.
“We definitely can work on a lot of things from this one about ourselves,” Niskayuna senior Jim Cesare said, “but we also saw things about their team.”
Coletta was concerned, at points, with the way Niskayuna was able to make Shenendehowa scramble defensively.
“That puts us on our heels,” Coletta said. “We want to make sure we keep serve [against Niskayuna] to keep them out of their system.”
The victory was an important one for Shenendehowa, as it looks to keep pace with rival Bethlehem for the top seed in this year’s Division I postseason field. Toppling a potential playoff foe was an added bonus for the Plainsmen.
“It’s always good to win against the teams like this,” said senior Bailey Bonville, who had three kills against Niskayuna. “This builds our confidence for the next time we’d play them.”
After dispatching Niskayuna in last year’s postseason, Shenendehowa swept Bethlehem in the sectional final on its way to eventually qualifying for the state final four. With several matches left in the regular season, Urbanski said the Plainsmen know they need to keep getting better each day.
“We need to pick it up to make it as far as we did last year,” he said.