BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Determined to take nothing for granted, the Shenendehowa girls’ volleyball squad began its preseason Aug. 15.
“It’s a strong, solid group coming back,” head coach Lori Kessler allowed.
In all likelihood, though, the 2016 version of Kessler’s Shenendehowa team is much more than that.
Returning 15 players from last year’s team, the six-time defending Section II Class AA champions are loaded with talent and depth. The goal is a state championship, and the Plainsmen have their sights set on ending one of Section II’s most impressive all-time streaks along the way.
“But my message to them is that the target is on their back. You can’t come into this season thinking everything will come easy to us,” Kessler said. “It’s a new season. We’re starting fresh. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Coming off an appearance in the 2015 Class AA state tournament, the Plainsmen kept a busy offseason.
Taking part in club play, camps, weight-lifting sessions and more had the Shenendehowa players ready for when their training camp started up.
“But it’s been nice to get back in here with the full team again,” senior Rachel Millington said. “We’re close like a family.”
“And we reconnected well,” junior Nicole Adams said. “We’re so excited for this season.”
This year’s campaign starts Aug. 31 with a Suburban Council home match against Niskayuna. But with all of their key contributors returning from a season ago except one — Hannah Elmer, last year’s lone senior — the Plainsmen were nearly ready for a match as soon as they hit the court this preseason.
“It was exciting to see the kids coming in with a lot of chemistry, in shape, and bringing in strong skill sets,” Kessler said. “Sometimes you’re starting fresh on Day 1, but I felt like we could pick up from where we left off last year and just get stronger.”
Besides taking the next step in going from competing in the state tournament to becoming state champions, the other piece of unfinished business from last year for the Plainsmen is to topple Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in league play.
Shenendehowa pushed Burnt Hills — which has won nearly 400 consecutive league matches — to five sets in their heart-pounding 2015 matchup, and the Plainsmen get their chance Oct. 19 at home to reverse last year’s final result.
“[Winning a state title] is our big driver this year, but before that we have our Burnt Hills game,” Adams said. “We really want that win.”
Her squad’s determination to make good on its numerous goals has Kessler confident her experienced group of Plainsmen will make the most of their talent.
“For me, it’s about those small steps we need to take to get to that final goal,” she said. “We have to prove it.”