Section 1 representative: John Jay
Opponents: Burnt Hills (18-0), Kings Park (20-0) and Pittsford-Sutherland (20-1)
Pool play round: Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
What to know about John Jay: The Indians have been playing like a completely team since switching to a 5-1 system, utilizing junior Taylor McCarthy more as a hitter than a hitter/setter hybrid, and that’s all props to coach Tom Rizzotti. Despite not having a ton of size for a Class A school, John Jay has plenty of firepower between McCarthy, fellow junior Julia Mines and middle blocker Eilish Newcomb. Heck, even 5-foot-3 senior Amanda Flayhan (right) packs a punch if they need her to hit instead of set.
John Jay looked off during Wednesday quad-match scrimmage against the other Section 1 state semifinalists, but the team is unfortunately also having to deal with some non-volleyball-related issues. The team seemed to pick up as the night wore on and should be ready for this weekend.
The Indians have had no easy trips since the section semifinals, topping Panas in the semifinals, Yorktown in the finals, Horseheads in the regional semifinals and Cornwall for the regional crown. In addition to the schedule it faced during the regular season, John Jay is certainly battle-tested for Glens Falls — and it will need to be.
Playing in arguably the toughest pool this year, John Jay will be going up against a field that is exactly the same as in 2012, when a dominant Panas squad left the Civic Center winless. Pittsford-Sutherland returns to defend its Class A crown from a year ago. Had John Jay not played the schedule it has this year, I would’ve thought that the Indians would leave Glens Falls with a similar fate as the Panthers did two years ago. With the talent and experience it has on this year’s roster, I think there’s a realistic chance the Indians play for the title on Sunday.
STAT FACTS: Pittsford-Sutherland and Burnt Hills have combined to win six of the last 10 NYSPHSAA championships in Class A, including each of the last four. Pittsford-Sutherland won in 2010 and 2013, while Burnt Hills went back-to-back in 2004-05 and 2011-12. John Jay is making its state semifinals debut, so any achievements here will be a first. The last Section 1 team to win a Class A title was Hen Hud, which repeated in 2006-07. Theresa Swertfager, daughter of Sailors coach Diane Swertfager, is the starting libero for John Jay.
What to know about Burnt Hills: The Spartans always field a competitive roster, and this year is no different. Burnt Hills runs a 5-1 system, with senior Jessica Dillon (599 assists) as the setter. Its two big offensive weapons are junior outside hitter Natalie Schurman (207 kills in 67 sets) and junior middle blocker Kelly Waters (160 kills in 57 sets), who is listed at 6-foot-3. Although Waters has a few inches on the rest of her teammates, the Spartans are very tall team.
Burnt Hills has won 13 consecutive Section 2 Class A championships, and has gone on to reach the state semifinals in each of those years. Even with a streak as impressive as that, there appears to be no signs of it coming to an end any time soon. The Spartans were in the finals both years when Pittsford won the crown in 2010 and 2013, so aside from experience, they also have a chip on their shoulder.
The Spartans played Panas in a tournament earlier this year, sweeping the Panthers, 25-20, 29-27. Now, you all know I hate the, “Whom beat whom,” theory, but at this level, with these resources, it’s pretty much all I have to go on. Panas obviously played Burnt Hills tight, as it did against John Jay. The Indians beat Panas twice this year, winning in five during the regular season and sweeping it in the section semifinals. If John Jay can beat Panas, and Panas played Burnt Hills very tight, I don’t see any reason why the Indians can’t do the same — or beat — the Spartans.
Burnt Hills beat Kings Park in tournament play, 25-19, 25-16, and has lost four of five games to Pittsford-Sutherland across two tournament matches, 25-27, 25-18, 25-23 and 25-22, 25-18.
What to know about Kings Park: They grown them big over in Kings Park, with four 6-footers featured on the roster and another three girls standing at 5-foot-10 or taller. Still, height aside, John Jay has actually seen — and beaten — the Kingsmen.
The two squads faced each other at John Jay’s annual NY-CT Invitational, splitting a two-game match. As noted above, Kings Park was swept by Burnt Hills in tournament play, 25-19, 25-16, so between that match, and last year’s 2-4 showing in the state semifinals, the Kingsmen have a very good idea of what to expect.
The Kingmen have a number of offensive weapons they utilize, but their primary hitter is 5-foot-11 senior outside Amanda Gannon, who will actually be coming to New Rochelle next season to play for Iona College, where she will join former Panas standout Shaina Campbell.
Verbally committed to play d1 volleyball at Iona college. Couldn’t be more happier:)
— Amanda Gannon (@mandiig10) December 21, 2013
Kings Park has won 66 consecutive matches against Long Island teams, so the weight of an undefeated record clearly doesn’t seem to affect the team all that much. I can really see any two teams coming out of this pool, but I think it’s going to be a dogfight between Kings Park, Burnt Hills and John Jay.
What to know about Pittsford-Sutherland: What’s to know that you probably don’t already know? The defending state champion Knights enter as the arguable favorite again in 2014 and for good reason. Even with the loss of two-time Gatorade player of the year Luisa Schirmer, the Knights have another AVCA first-team All-American in senior middle blocker Santita Ebangwese, who is committed to Syracuse. When Ebangwese graduates, she will join Good Counsel alum Dana Crispi in the navy and orange.
Now, while losing a star like Schirmer — who is now playing for 25th-ranked Ohio State — can never help your program, having another D-1 talent at your disposal isn’t too bad. Knights coach Matt Glover said in the preseason that he wanted to prove that it’s “not about one player.”
In addition to Ebangwese, the Knights are also armed with one of the top liberos in the section in junior Aliah Bowllan. I think the Knights will see some really good volleyball, but I don’t see how they head home to Pittsford Saturday night. The question shouldn’t be, “Will Pittsford-Sutherland play for the state title on Sunday?” but rather, “Who will it be facing?”
John Jay photo credit: Peter Carr/The Journal News
Sutherland photo credit: Democrat and Chronicle