It promises to be a historic night on Saturday when the George Elliot Coyotes (Lake Country) and the Abbotsford Christian Knights (Abbotsford) square off in the AA final of the 2018 Kahunaverse Sports BC Volleyball Championship at the Langley Events Centre.
For the first time in their respective senior boys volleyball histories, one of those two schools will be crowned provincial champion as the four-day tournament wraps up at Langley Events Centre.
The Knights came agonizingly close in 2017, falling in the championship game while Coyotes came sixth last year but have not played for gold since 1982, when they won silver. They also took second in both 1976 and 1977 and bronze in 1994 and 1995.
In Friday’s semifinal, George Elliot, the top team from the Okanagan zone, was up against the North Central champion College Heights Cougars. The Coyotes had won all four previous meetings between the two and looked like they were going to make quick work of their Prince George opponent, taking the first two sets by 25-22 and 25-16. But College Heights rebounded to win 26-24 and 25-23 setting up a fifth and deciding set.
Fittingly, it was a back-and-forth set with neither team able to lead by more than two points. And College Heights was up 14-13 and serving for the match. Following a George Elliot timeout, however, the Coyotes staved off elimination and won 17-15.
“I said pass the ball and be aggressive,” Coyotes coach Chris Frehlick said about his message to his players. He referenced a match he watched the night before where the opponent seemed tentative. “That never goes well. You have to stay aggressive.”
The semifinal victory was also a measure of revenge for the Coyotes, as they were knocked out by the Cougars in the quarter-finals.
Frehlick also gave props to his opponent, calling this the best match he had seen College Heights play against them.
Their Abbotsford Christian opponent is making their second consecutive appearance in the title game, and just like George Elliot, the Knights vanquished a familiar foe to earn their spot. In 2017, Langley Christian denied the Knight a championship but this time it would be Abbotsford Christian defeating their Fraser Valley rival 3-1 (23-25,27-25,25-17,25-20).
And in that second set, the Lightning were up 24-23 and serving to go up 2-0 in the best-of-five match but the Knights extended the set and scored four of the final five points to even it at 1-1.
“That was the clincher right there. Our team had a couple of rough weeks (to end the season) so confidence has been a big issue for us,” said Abby Christian coach Anthony Jansen. “Winning that game was a huge confidence boost for us.”
While George Elliot entered the provincial championships as the No. 1 seed, the Knights struggled over the final weeks, dropping from third to sixth. Part of the problem has been health-related, the rest confidence.
Abby Christian won their pool on Wednesday and then after a straight sets victory over Lambrick Park in the round of 16, survived a tough five-match quarter-final against MEI, another one of their local rivals.
“We are healthy now, both physically and emotionally, and I think that makes the world of difference,” Jansen said.
The Knights and Coyotes go for gold on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Langley Christian and College Heights will play for bronze at noon.
AAA final Saturday night
It will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the final game of the high school boys volleyball season on Saturday night at Langley Events Centre.
No. 1 is the Earl Marriott Mariners (who have just one loss all season) while No. 2 is the Van Tech Talismen, aiming to become the first Vancouver team ever to win the provincial championship for the highest tier (AAA) of senior boys volleyball as the
Kahunaverse Sports BC Volleyball Championships conclude their four-day run.
And both teams are leaning on the experiences they endured at the 2017 championships.
For the Mariners, it was the disappointment of a season which ended with the wrong shade of medal they had set out for, placing third at the provincial tournament.
“That was a huge letdown last year. We didn’t say it, but we fully expected to be in that (championship final) and win it too,” admitted head coach Al Schill. “That was our goal all year because the core of (that team) is still here.”
Earl Marriott returned six Grade 12s from that team and gained five Grade 11s who helped the junior team go undefeated en route to the provincial title in 2017.
And this Mariners squad has been a machine, going 3-0 on Wednesday to win their pool without dropping a set. The momentum has continued in the playoff round with Earl Marriott dispatching Burnaby South in the round of 16 on Thursday, and then on Friday against Mt. Boucherie in the quarter-finals and Claremont in the semifinals. All three elimination matches were won 3-0 and only twice in the nine sets did an opponent get more than 18 points.
The semifinal scores were 25-14, 25-23 and 25-12.
“The beauty of it is we did it by committee. All the guys got into the game and had a meaningful impact when they did. That to me makes the win that much better,” Schill said.
And while the Mariners were cruising their victory, Van Tech was on the adjacent court battling a tough Moscrop Panthers team in a rematch of the Lower Mainland final a few weeks ago. In Friday’s semifinal, the Talismen took the first two sets, 25-23 and 26-24, before the Panthers extended the match with a 25-20 win in set three. Van Tech would close things out in the fourth set by that same 25-20 score.
Van Tech head coach Aaron Lock, a former player for the Vancouver school, said making the championship game – a first in the history of the program – is the culmination of hard work from himself and all the Talismen coaches.
“I would love to say it has been a long time coming but we have just been grinding it, working it,” he said.
This is his third year as the head coach and last year, the team qualified for provincials, placing 11th.
Eleven of the 12 players from that team are on this year’s squad and that taste of playing at the highest level motivated the players to work even harder through the summer in preparation for their Grade 12 season. “Last year was all about the experience. The learning curve was steep last year (but) they saw what they could potentially do,” Lock said.
The gold medal game begins at 6 p.m. while Claremont and Moscrop will battle for bronze at 2 p.m.