GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Taylor Cole couldn’t fight back tears when describing her unbridled love for the Connetquot girls volleyball team.

The senior, playing in her final game as a Thunderbird, did everything she could to will her team against powerhouse Penfield, but Connetquot came up short.

Penfield won, 20-25, 27-25, 25-12, 25-20, to win the state Class AA championship Sunday at the Glens Falls Civic Center, ending Connetquot’s unbeaten season and reign as Class AA champions.

“This team is the best thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life,” Cole said. “I’m so proud to have been a part of it.”

Teammates and coaches speak highly of Cole, a selfless emotional leader who puts personal accolades aside for the betterment of the program. That said, her growth as a player is worth recognizing.

Cole has played for Connetquot (20-1) coach Justin Hertz for four years, beginning as a defensive specialist before learning how to play outside hitter. She eventually became a dominant starter and weapon at the position.

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“You will not find a better kid on Long Island with more pride of being a Connetquot T-Bird and representing her high school,” Hertz said. “I’ve seen her grow in ways you just don’t see from your everyday kid.”

“Losing Taylor, my sister, is going to be tough because she’s a real leader for our team,” said junior Mackenzie Cole.

Taylor Cole isn’t the only senior Connetquot has to thank for contributing to one of Long Island’s most dominant programs over the past two seasons. Cory Carrara, Sarah McKeveny and Ashley Spencer each filled invaluable roles.

“They’re such a great group of seniors, and it doesn’t have to always relate to the on-the-court volleyball stuff,” Hertz said. “They’re good role models, hard workers. They don’t take anything for granted.”

The seniors leave the program in the hands of perhaps the most talented junior class on Long Island. Mackenzie Cole, Daniella Balsano, Nicole Migliozzi, Taylor Konzen, Skyla Schoppmeyer, Cassandra Patsos and Mackenzie Taylor are each immensely talented athletes who will be hungry to avenge this loss.

Cole and Migliozzi were named to the all-tournament team.

“I think this will beyond motivate them,” Taylor Cole said. “We have an outstanding junior class, who I think will not want their senior year to go out like this.”

They might even be ready to start prepping for next season.

“There’s no strategy that’s going to get them hungrier than a loss,” Hertz said. “Knowing them, they’re ready to get back in the gym now and start getting ready for next season.”

It’s that drive that makes Connetquot such a force, leaving little doubt that the Thunderbirds will be a contender again next season, even without their senior core.

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Said Mackenzie Cole: “We’ll be back.”