Coach Gary Bynon is Driving Force Behind Burnt Hills Volleyball
Winning is contagious for the Burnt Hills girls volleyball team. On Sept. 13, the Lady Spartans beat Niskayuna, 25-8, 25-12, 25-15 to sweep a Suburban Council match...again. This time it marked Burnt Hill's 300th straight win in the league.
This streak (at 306 games) goes back to October 1990, just after Burnt Hills lost to Shenendehowa and head coach Gary Bynon remembers that well.
"I told the kids that day, I don't want to play like that again," said Bynon. And that message resonated as the Lady Spartans continued their winning ways in big fashion.
On Oct. 13, 2009, Burnt Hills lost the second game of the match with Shenendehowa, 26-24, but went on to win the next two games and the match.
Previous to that, the last league game was lost in 2001 when Burnt Hills fell to Averill Park. In that game, Burnt Hills and Averill Park split the first two games. Burnt Hills was trailing in the third, but rallied to win the match. In 2003, there was a second close call: Burnt Hills trailed 22-10 in the second game of a best-of-five match when a freshman scored on nine consecutive serves keeping the undefeated run alive.
So what has Burnt Hills volleyball accomplished over the years: 23 straight Suburban Council Divisional Championships, 19 times as a Section II finalist (every year since 1990 except 1994 and 1996), 16 Section II titles, 12 state final four appearances and three state championships (2002 Class B, 2004 Class A and 2005 (Class A).
The streak has been helpful in that it's given the girls volleyball team some well-deserved recognition and, while not a taboo subject, it's not something that is frequently mentioned.
Bynon took over this volleyball team in the fall of 1988 from Leslie Archer.
"I inherited a team that had experience. I was 25 and learning the game. I'm still learning the game. It's just amazing on what we've accomplished in this program over the years," said Bynon.
When Bynon first arrived at Burnt Hills, he coached basketball and volleyball for 10 years, but felt he had to dedicate his team to volleyball.
And what about the streak?
"It's something we know about, but we don't focus on it. We go to a lot of weekend tournaments and play tough competition. This is far bigger than one person," said Bynon.
Senior captain Natalie Ziskin is one of the catalysts for the Lady Spartans.
"The pressure is to perform to the best of our ability. It's really another family. We spend so much time together. We all work extremely hard all year long," said Ziskin.
This season (as of Sept. 30) Ziskin has 389 assists. She holds the school record with a varsity career total of 2,959 assists.
And what does Ziskin think of coach Bynon?
"He's a fantastic coach. He gives so much, not only to Burnt Hills volleyball but he's director of Lakeside Volleyball," she said.
Of course, she wants to play volleyball in college but knows that academics is priority.
"I'm talking to a lot of colleges. I need to make sure the academics are there. I'm looking into psychology/pre-med. I think the whole health science is fascinating. When I'm older I want to work with children," said Ziskin.
Ziskin's younger sister, Erica (a junior) also plays for the Lady Spartans, so I guess it is a family affair.
Elizabeth (Lizzy) Morton is a four-year member of the Lady Spartans. For the first three years, she played outside and this year switched to middle.
To say that Morton started early in the program would be an understatement. She began playing volleyball in about third grade and managed the varsity team in fifth and sixth grade.
How much does Morton think about the streak?
"I don’t really think of the streak often. The streak is like something that's in the back corner of your mind when you're playing. Usually when a game gets intense or a really good play happens, I usually forget all about the streak and just am proud of what our team has accomplished," she said.
Morton leads the team with 94 kills. She has a total of 32 serving aces for the year.
"We don’t usually mention the streak very much. Only on important games or when we seem to lose focus as a team, we remind ourselves of the streak. We mostly just try to keep on improving and giving our best every time we step on the court. If we keep on improving and stay focused, it's as if we don’t even have a streak to worry about, just facing another opponent on the other side of the net," said Morton.
Morton feels the key to Burnt Hills' success is definitely everyone's constant desire to continue getting better at volleyball.
"All year-round everyone plays some type of volleyball whether its club volleyball, or outdoors in tournaments or in the backyard. Even when they are playing another school sport many of my teammates' are still playing volleyball and improving," she said.
And what does Morton think about Bynon?
"Coach Bynon is a very motivational coach. He will never let you give up on yourself and is constantly pushing you to do your best and be a good person. He is able to truly relate to us girls, and we are still able to have a good time in practice while remaining serious. Not only does Coach Bynon teach us volleyball, but he teaches us how to be better teammates, and better all around people," said Morton.
Bynon and the Lady Spartans continue to make history, not just in Section II but in the state.
"It's a sport that is really my life now. It's fun. We're confident in what we do. It's big when you're the team other teams want to beat. The kids have fed off the success. We're just trying to be the best in our league. Volleyball is what's taught second. We teach the student-athletes to be good community members," said Bynon.
Although, the Lady Spartans have the unbelievable streak and remain the 'team to beat', Bynon keeps everything in perspective.
"We try to do the basics perfectly. We're always working hard. I got kids on the bench that are role players. We have experience. We start players in the third and fourth grades. I'm here to educate the kids. We constantly try to improve the kids. I want someone to say he did everything he could to be a positive part of the community," said Bynon.
On Friday, Burnt Hills defeated Shenendehowa, 25-22, 25-17, 25-19 to raise its record to 9-0 in league play and 15-0 overall. Bynon has put together 517 career wins.