Older, bigger and harder-hitting opponents were no match for the Avalanche under-15 boys’ team, who won the Rich Wayling Memorial Volleyball Tournament in Cranbrook on April 4.
The East Kootenay Volleyball Club (EKVC) reps rallied from a set down beating Lethbridge Volleyball Club 19-25, 25-18 and 15-10 in a thrilling best-of-three championship match to claim the Kootenay Cup at Parkland Middle School.
The U15 Avalanche, a branch of the Cranbrook-based EKVC, is coached by Mike Nelson of Creston and features Fernie players Ben Gilmet, Talon Vale and Andrew Craig.
“We played everyone and had important contributions from each player,” said Nelson, who regularly rotated his three bench players onto the court during all eight matches, including three players each from Creston and Cranbrook. “It was a team win.”
It wasn’t necessarily an expected triumph given that his was the only U15 entry in the six-team field, which also featured U16 clubs from Spokane, Wash. and Vulcan, Alta., and the EKVC, in addition to the EKVC’s U18 reps (whose results didn’t count in the official standings because of the age difference).
“Although I’m aware we were out-sized and out-skilled, we have a group of confident kids that believe they can beat anyone,” the coach said. “We are stressing the importance of hard work and that defence and ball control are what wins matches.”
Lethbridge power hitters dominated the first set, but the Avalanche produced a big push-back in the second to take leads of 13-4 and 21-6.
They fell behind 4-1 early in the decisive third set but rallied to lead 8-4 at the change-over, then found themselves deadlocked at 9-9 before pulling away in the clutch, with Marcus Bell of Creston serving out the last two points.
“We were able to out-defend and our ball control was excellent in those final two sets,” Nelson said. “That was the difference. Both teams had excellent setters and they were far stronger attackers, but we served and passed better during the match.”
Nelson added, “This will undoubtedly provide us with confidence heading into provincials.”
Those provincials are the Alberta championships which will take place May 2-3 in Calgary, where the team will return two weeks later for the national club championships at the University of Calgary.
The Avalanche downed the EKVC U16 boys 19-25, 25-12, 15-10 in a nail-biting semifinal that saw the eventual winners squander a 5-0 third-set lead before staging a late rally of their own. The U16s led 8-6 at the change-over but were tied 10-10 before Bell, having recently come off the bench, served out the final five points.
The Avalanche came back strongly after the opening set loss, winning the first seven points of the second set on serve.
Earlier in the day they posted a 25-20, 25-16 quarterfinal victory over a game group from Vulcan which had finished last in the preliminary round the day before, only to nearly upset Lethbridge in a 2-1 defeat to start the playoffs.
The Avalanche posted a hard-fought 4-1 match record on day one to finished second to Lethbridge in the round-robin, edging Vulcan 15-25, 25-14, 15-6, the EKVC U16s 14-25, 25-18, 15-8 and Spokane 26-24, 26-24, after having trailed the Americans 23-16 in the opening set.
The U15s were the only team to take a set off of otherwise unbeaten Lethbridge in a 22-25, 25-18, 15-11 first-round loss.
They didn’t roll over for the U18s in a 25-16, 25-14 defeat that was credited as a 2-0 U15 victory in the official standings, as was the case for all the older team’s opponents.