After a week of hard training and reflection, the girls of 14U Black headed to the 15U Challenge Cup in Stouffville with renewed focus and a collective will bent on redemption. Feeling that they had somewhat underperformed at the 14U Provincial Cup, the girls took the court on Saturday morning relishing the opportunity to show their mettle. By the end of the day mettle gave way to medal as the Black won bronze and regained their footing on their path to the Provincials in April.
Pool play began with a return match against the Unionville Wasps; the team that had won gold at last weekend’s Provincial Cup. Having fallen to these pests in three sets, our girls came out in the first set determined and as keen as mustard. Demonstrating great first pass control the girls in Black plucked the wings from the hapless Wasps in a 25-16 victory. The second set, however, saw an unfortunate change in the game’s momentum as occasional bouts of miscommunication and troubled serve receive on the Durham side allowed the Unionville team to recover and even the match at one set apiece. In the deciding third set it seemed that misfortune took the court alongside our girls. Balls fell inexplicably as though guided by some malevolent force as the Wasps took an early 0-7 lead before the Black were able to organize their attack. The play that followed saw the two teams locked at 8, 12 and 14 before our girls took a 15-14 lead and seemed on the verge of finally slaying the yellow and black dragon. It was then that fate decided that our girls needed the additional motivation that comes from chasing an adversary, and allowed the undeserving Wasps to win 17-15.
The second game of pool play against the 15U Raven’s Red team seemed anticlimactic by comparison as our DA girls exploited the Belleville team’s defensive flaws in the first set by putting on a 25-4 serving clinic. The second set, while a slightly sloppy affair, was as decisive as the first as DA walked away with a 25-14 result. Quoth the Black to the Ravens – “Nevermore.” This victory left our girls in second place in their pool requiring them to win a qualifying match to advance to the quarter-final playoffs.
Although given a brief lunch break, the sweat wasn’t dry on their brows before the DA took to the court again for a must-win match. Perhaps angry at having their luncheon interrupted the girls were in a murderous mood as they stared down their unfortunate victims in the Markham Stinger’s 15U Yellow. Though yellow by name, the Markham girls showed more helplessness than cowardice as they were subjected to a shock and awe campaign not seen since Desert Storm. It was all the Stingers could do to take cover as the Black rained thunderous kills down upon them in the 25-9, 25-8 sets.
The big swings kept coming in the quarter-final game against the Markham Wildcat Panthers. If there were any “Wildcats in the House” (sad High School Musical reference) they were soon evicted as the Panthers were issued their “Pink slips” in short order. Overcoming occasional misadventures in serve receive, the girls produced amazing kills and digs in the 25-17, 25-19 sets including a collaborative play on the part of the setters that approached miraculous and revealed the impressive nature of Coach Banbury’s vertical leap.
The win over the Panthers advanced the Black into the medal rounds and the path of 15U DRVC: an experienced, hard hitting team who had run roughshod over morning competition. Utilizing an attack strategy primarily built on quicks up the middle, the DRVC girls had taken an early 3-11 lead on the girls when our coaches called a time out to make defensive adjustments. As we returned to the floor, now with the key to blocking the quicks, it soon became apparent that the opposing middles didn’t have a plan B. Flummoxed by a quality of defense they hadn’t encountered prior to this point in the day, the DRVC began to falter as their offence fell apart. As the set continued our girls were in close contention throughout, displaying impressive composure through the lengthy rallies produced by two teams equal in skill and determination. When the 21-25 set ended the Durham Region girls knew they had been fortunate in winning. The second set was more an indication of growing exhaustion from playing so many matches without a break rather than any comment on our ability, as our focus faltered causing a 10-25 defeat. Although disappointed to be denied a chance at gold, our girls soon recovered and rallied their energy for the bronze medal game.
It began evident that being denied a medal in their first two tournaments wasn’t sitting well with our ladies in Black as they faced off against their older club mates in 15U Red. Focused from the initial serve, our girls exhibited superior skill in all aspects of their game as they overwhelmed their 15U opponents in the 25-8 first set. When their virtually error free play carried forward into the second set the rout was complete as the girls dominated the 25-14 affair, delighting their fans and winning their first medal of the 2014-15 campaign.
As they posed outside in the failing rays of the sunset the girls savored their first taste of meaningful victory together. Here, finally, was some concrete return for the hard work put in since September. Although the girls now enter the holiday break, when they return to action in 2015 the destinations of Waterloo and Calgary will loom ever larger. As is the case in the attainment of most shiny things, this medal won at the Challenge Cup will most likely only increase the longing for more. Given their enormous talent, work ethic and ambition, I wouldn’t bet against them.
Article written by David Farrell