Chautauqua Lake returns home with state title

P-J photos by Christian Storms The Chautauqua Lake volleyball team celebrates its New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship over Lake George on Sunday at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.

GLENS FALLS — In Chautauqua Lake’s state semifinal matchup against Candor on Saturday there was a lot of doubt whether the Thunderbirds would be playing on Sunday.

After surviving their Section IV opponent, the Thunderbirds made it to Sunday against Section II’s Lake George.

Unlike its semifinal, there was no doubt whether or not Chautauqua Lake would be taking home the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D volleyball championship. The Thunderbirds were in control from start to finish, sweeping Lake George 25-17, 25-13, 25-20 at Cool Insuring Arena to win their first volleyball championship.

“I have never been more proud of kids, ever,” Chautauqua Lake head coach Joanne Meadows said. “It’s so great being back here and not just getting back here with this young group of kids, but for them to step up the way they did. To come back from yesterday’s game and keep that momentum going into today and to take this one was huge.”

Chautauqua Lake approached its semifinal a little too amped up and it ended up costing them, putting the Thunderbirds in a 2-0 hole to Candor. After rallying the night before, Chautauqua Lake needed to keep its emotions in check.

P-J photo by Christian Storms Chautauqua Lake’s Alice Scarpine makes a dig during the NYSPHSAA Class D championship volleyball match on Sunday at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.

“I think they saw what happens when you play way above,” Meadows said about locking in for the finals. “We’ve been saying all year, we’re so young we have to kind of rope in the emotions a little bit, because they’re little kids. We didn’t yesterday, it looked awesome to start, but it wasn’t something we could maintain. They saw what happens when we get out of ourselves a little bit.”

From the very beginning it was obvious the Thunderbirds were locked in and ready to play in Sunday’s title game. Chautauqua Lake took control right out of the gate, jumping to leads that had Lake George calling timeouts and chasing all the way until the end of the set.

Chautauqua Lake finished its first set with a five-point run and carried that momentum right into its best set of the tournament, dominating the Warriors 25-13 to pull within one win of a championship.

Leading the charge was its seniors, who had been waiting their whole careers to get to this stage. Ava Olson took home the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player award after scoring nine kills, two aces, 14 digs, five assists and three blocks in the final, Brynn Engdahl made First Team with six kills — including the winner — an ace and six digs, and Bre Smith added five kills and four blocks.

“This is a dream come true,” Engdahl said. “I have been working so hard since like fourth grade and this is just amazing to take home the win and really secure the bag.”

“I’m so grateful to do it with these people,” Smith added. “They’ve become my family over the years and I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Lake George gave its best in the final set, but with Chautauqua Lake dialed in there was no chance of a comeback. The Thunderbirds started to pull away with a five-point run going up 23-16 on the brink of a championship.

The Warriors made a final push, but it was all over when Engdahl hit the final kill and her teammates poured onto the court to celebrate the school’s first volleyball championship.

“Honestly, I’m speechless,” Olson said. “I can’t even explain it to you, I’m literally shaking and so many emotions rush to me. Happiness to sadness for my last game, but overall it was the perfect way to end my senior year.”

After coming up short of states the past few seasons with a veteran group, a scrappy Chautauqua Lake team that received support from middle schoolers, underclassmen and upperclassmen took home the Class D state championship.

OBSERVER Photo by Christian Storms Chautauqua Lake freshman Karagan Fairbank hits the ball over a Lake George defender.

“Nobody expected it, which makes it that much sweeter,” Olson said. “We came into the season and lost a couple games and nobody thought in a million years we’d make it this far and here we are. We showed a lot of comebacks in some games. All of our hard work paid off and I’m so proud of our younger ones for stepping up.”

Eighth-grader Noli Paddock made the tournament’s First Team after three digs and six blocks in the final, freshman Karagan Fairbank shined with two kills, three aces, three digs, 16 assists and two blocks; sophomore Jeanine Group scored four kills; freshman Makenna Smith made eight digs; and seventh-grader Alice Scarpine pulled out 22 digs.

“We’re not just ever focused on one team,” Meadows said. “We want this to be a program, so in 10 years I want these guys to still feel like they’re a part of it. It’s nice to have that future right here with them, too. I told them (the seniors) what’s going to make us this year is how you bring these little kids along, and Brynn, Bre and Ava did exactly what I asked them to do.”

While the future looks bright for the Thunderbirds, the seniors leave with a state title that classes ahead of them couldn’t quite secure, but they helped build the foundation for this championship.

“This means so much and for them, too,” Engdahl said. “They have been cheering us on from the sidelines and it’s just so amazing to see their support. To have so many years built up upon this year and to finally get the win, is just amazing, I can’t believe it.”

OBSERVER Photo by Christian Storms Tournament MVP Ava Olson sets a pass

“It’s not just this team, it’s the past years, too,” Bre Smith added.

OBSERVER Photo by Christian Storms Chautauqua Lake head coach Joanne Meadows collects the NYSPHSAA Class D volleyball championship plaque with her senior captains, from the left, Bre Smith, Olson and Brynn Engdahl.


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