By Tony Pinciaro
When HEN HUD convened on the first day of varsity volleyball practice in late August, seniors Mackenzie Calhoun and Franny Tissoni welcomed a young team, which would include two eighth-graders.
After a Covid-shortened 2020 season, which denied Hen Hud an opportunity to play in the Northern Westchester/Putnam County Tournament, the senior tandem was not sure what to expect. However, once preseason progressed and the regular season began, Hen Hud would mature and develop into its usual dominant self.
Hen Hud steamrolled through the regular season, won the Section 1 Class B title and returned to the New York State final four, where it was in 2019. Unlike 2019, when the Sailors were eliminated after pool play, this year, Hen Hud found itself in a familiar place — playing for a state title.
John Glenn, the Section 11 champion, would prevail, though, defeating Hen Hud, 25-21, 20-25, 25-22, 25-21 to win the state Class B title at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, Sunday.
Hen Hud finished the season with a 26-1 record and a tremendous sense of achievement.
“I’m completely satisfied with this weekend and this season,” Calhoun said. “I know we lost and I know I should be sitting on my floor crying now. But who would’ve thought we would win sectionals because we’re so young. I’m proud of that, getting back to the state final four and doing better. It was a great match and we played our hearts out.”
While the 2019 state final-four team had eight seniors, the top players in Hen Hud’s rotation included two sophomore and two eighth-graders, to go along with two seniors and three juniors. With this youth, it was important for Calhoun and Tissoni to help the underclassmen get acclimated and feel comfortable.
“Franny and I looked at the seniors who resonated with us the most,” Calhoun said. “We wanted to lead the team in the right direction through friendship and camaraderie and this team was able to form a bond.”
This bond was evident when Hen Hud found itself in an unfamiliar situation after splitting its first four pool-play games with Marcellus and John Glenn, Saturday. Hen Hud needed to sweep Broadalbin-Perth in order to secure a spot in the state final.
“We definitely had an urgency to do this to make it to tomorrow,” said Calhoun of sweeping Broadalbin-Perth.
“There was a little pressure, but I think we needed that pressure and a little fire under us to make us win and get us out of the little funk we were in.”
Even though Calhoun and Tissoni graduate in June, they leave with lasting memories and the knowledge that Hen Hud returns a seasoned, state final-four team in 2022.
“I am so happy with how my final season went,” Calhoun said. “The girls were amazing and we have so much love for each other. It was insane that my last volleyball game I got to be on the state stage, playing for Hen Hud volleyball, which has given me so much throughout my career.
“I am so excited that this team is able to stay together next year. I’m also excited to see the super youngsters continue to grow and mature as players. I know my career is done, but I will alway be a Hen Hud volleyball fan.”
For the second consecutive week, PANAS faced adversity and the Panthers responded with a huge win.
Panas rallied from game point, and also a six-point deficit, to win the first game of its pool-play match with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 28-26. This clinched a spot in the New York State Class A title match, also against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake went on to beat Panas, 25-8, 25-18, 25-13, in the final at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls to win its second consecutive state title.
Panas finished the season with a 20-3 record. The Panthers went 3-3 in pool play, splitting with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Wantagh and Niagara-Wheatfield.
Rallying to win the first game against the 2019 state champions allowed Panas to exhale, knowing it did not face the pressure of needing to take the second game.
In its regional final, Panas rallied from a 2-1 deficit to earn a state final-four berth.
“For us, that first game was a now-or-never moment,” said senior and captain Tristan Demas. “It was really intense and nerve wracking, considering no one had taken a set from Burnt Hills the entire day. We are definitely a team that rises to the occasion. We focused on keeping a positive attitude and played one point at a time. Every one of us left our hearts on the court. Every time someone got a ball up or even got a touch, we were all hyping each other up about it which only increased our energy.”
After not reaching the sectional and county finals the past two years, Panas returned to Class A supremacy. It was somewhat of a surprise to the team.
“I don’t think any of us were expecting to go to states in the beginning,” Demas said. “Once we started winning all of our games and actually saw what we were capable of, we all sort of realized that we could go all the way. And we went as far as we possibly could, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
“To be back at states knowing we earned our spot there is so crazy to me. This whole journey was a team effort and everyone on the team contributed something towards us ending up back in that arena.”
Demas, along with classmates Alanna Mansell, Maddy Mulroy, Siena Bieber, Alyssa Roccuzzo, Kayla Neville and Tiara Balancio go out as champions and have left their legacy on a Panas program synonymous with volleyball excellence.
“I’m confident that the future will continue to rise up and continue to play with confidence and passion,” Demas said. “That’s a key factor in winning games and I know they’re capable of continuing that.”