The Canada Cup junior volleyball tournament had never had a team from North of 60 as part of its line-up.
That is until the Western Canada Summer Games girls squad made an appearance this year and they certainly didn’t embarrass themselves in the slightest.
The team made the trip to this year’s tournament in Halifax and ended up finishing 12 th overall out of 16 teams in Division 2, a result which head coach Darren Horn said proved that they belonged.
“The girls now have that experience of playing meaningful games,” he said. “We’re closer as a team and the coaches have identified a few areas we need to work on as we prepare for the Games next month in Swift Current (Sask.).”
The very first thing Horn said the team noticed was the heat and humidity at Dalhousie University’s Dalplex, the host venue for the tournament.
“At times, conditions inside the gym reached 30 C with 50 per cent humidity,” he said. “You walk into the gym and literally break out into a sweat. Given the extreme temperatures, hydration, nutrition and rest/recovery were of the utmost importance for our athletes.”
July 18 was the first day of competition for the girls as they took on Saskatchewan in their opening round-robin contest. The girls came out the better of the two teams in the opening set, winning 25-19. They rebounded from a second set loss to win set three, 25-20, but dropped set four, setting up the fifth-set tiebreak, which didn’t go their way, 15-6.
“Our girls gave them all they could handle,” said Horn. “The girls played an incredible match, serving and attacking aggressively, passing “dimes” (perfect passes) and frustrating the Saskatchewan team with amazing defence. Everything they threw at us, our girls were able to defend.”
In the end, Horn said the heat and humidity got to the girls along with some mental mishaps.
Up next was Manitoba later in the evening, which ended in a straight set defeat, and Horn figured the girls were still feeling the effect of the earlier match.
“Our girls were still exhausted from the previous match and couldn’t get into a groove at all,” he said.
The next day saw the girls kick things off against Nova Scotia in a game which Horn felt could have gone their way but ended up on the losing end, 3-1.
“We were very evenly matched with Nova Scotia (and) I felt like this match could have easily gone either way,” he said.
After a straight-set loss to Alberta, the girls moved into the playoff round, where it was decided that matches would be reduced to a best-of-three set format.
Horn said the organizers were getting concerned about the toll the heat and humidity were taking on players, hence shortening the playoff matches.
First up for the girls was Nova Scotia and that’s where they hit the win column, taking a straight-set decision to become the first team from the North to win a game ever at the tournament. The win set up a rematch with Saskatchewan and just like the first contest, this one went to a tiebreak. And just like the first contest, Saskatchewan would win it to win the match.
The best the girls could do was 11 th place and they would play Newfoundland and Labrador to get it. It was another winnable game, according to Horn, but the girls ended losing in straight sets, 25-22 and 25-20.
“In close scoring sets like this, it really just comes down to a few unforced errors here or there or a couple 50/50 balls that don’t go your way,” said Horn.
Overall, Horn said he was pleased with how the girls handled themselves and plenty of his players turned in great efforts.
“Jennifer Lalonde led the team all tournament long, not only with her setting, but her leadership as well,” he said. “Katie Genge drove opponents crazy with her aggressive serving and defence, Brianna Helyar was a force at the net, leading the team in blocks and keeping opponents on their toes with her middle attack and Emily Carroll and Allana Zettler did a great job as our primary power hitters.”