Each spring, the Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA) hosts its annual Indoor Volleyball championships at RIM Park in Waterloo. Teams from across the province gather to compete against each other over a grueling, 3-day tournament.
Our Durham Attack 16U Boys Black team started the tournament ranked first in our Pool on Day 1. The goal of the first day was to finish in the top 3 of the pool in order to stay in Tier 1. A higher placement on Day 1 would be preferred, since it would provide a relatively easier schedule for the next day matches (i.e. against lower ranked teams). This goal was seriously jeopardized right from the start.
Our first match of the tournament pitted us against the Ottawa Fusion, a team that had not competed in the Premier division all season. Despite this low ranking, the Fusion pulled off a stunning upset, as we lost the match in 3-sets (24-26, 25-18, 11-15). It was our first match loss against a non-Top 3 team this season. Needless to say, our boys did not play well. In the first set alone, we committed 17 unforced errors. Unbelievable… particularly since a set win only requires 25 points! With this match loss, our tournament got a lot harder right out of the gate.
Fortunately, our boys started to play a bit better in the next match against Forest City Green. Although we continued to make a bunch of unforced errors (like serving out, shanking passes, and hitting out-of-bounds), we still managed to hold onto a 2-set victory (25-20, 25-19). In the last match of the day against Niagara Rapids, we started to “take care of the ball better” and cruised to another 2-set victory (25-16, 25-13). With a 2-1 match record, we finished in a 3-way tie for first place in the pool. Luckily, we won the tie-breaker due to our Sets Win-Loss ratio (5-2). Whew!
On Day 2, our DA boys played with more focus and determination. We swept the first two opponents rather quickly: Pakmen Black (25-16, 25-23) and Thundercats Black (25-10, 25-20). For the last match of the day, we would face the Aurora Storm Inferno yet again… sixth time this season. Despite being undermanned with two starting players out with injuries, the Inferno fought a tough battle. In the first set, we fell behind early 12-18. But we battled back with some great scrambling defense and transition. The lead was chipped away, and we eventually surged at the end to win the first set 26-24. We then capitalized upon this momentum to win the second set decisively, 25-15.
With a 3-0 match record on Day 2, we would earn a bye straight to the Quarter Finals for the next day. However, we didn’t have much time. Since we competed in the Afternoon Wave, we finished our Day 2 matches at around 9:30 pm. After a 30 min drive back to the hotel, the team ate a late night carb dinner to replenish their energy levels. While the boys packed and went to sleep for an early morning match, the coaches stayed up late to watch videos of the competition and to prepare the game plan for the Playoffs.
In the quarter-finals, we faced Aurora Storm RipTide 15U. Despite being a year younger, we did not take this team too lightly. Earlier in the season, we learned this lesson the hard way, as we dropped a set and almost lost a match to this feisty group of under-aged players. This morning would be different, as we dominated every aspect of the game to win in 2 straight sets (25-13, 25-14).
For the semi-finals, we would compete against the Kitchener Waterloo Predators, who were considered one of the top teams in the province. Although we had not lost to this team yet this season, the atmosphere was ripe for a titanic battle. Scores of fans lined the perimeter of the court to cheer their home town favourites. The first set was evenly contested until about 17-18. Back and forth, the points got traded. Then KW blasted a couple of monster spin-serves to take control. On the next play, a deceptive setter’s dump caught our defense on its heels and scored to seal our fate. We managed just a couple of more points and lost the first set 19-25. The local KW fans were cheering wildly.
With our backs against the wall, it was a “win or go home” situation in the second set. With momentum on their side, the KW players seemed to be jumping higher and playing with more confidence. On one play, the big KW right-side hitter blasted a kill shot thru the block and hit our setter right in the neck. Ouch! We had to burn one of our timeouts early to slow the pace and to try to get back into rhythm. Both teams took big swings, attacked with ferocity and traded side-outs. This “power” game would fit right into our sweet spot, as our lineup features big hitters at every position on the court. We pulled ahead slightly at 18-14, but KW came roaring back to close the lead to within one point: 23-22.
The next play was critical. Our setter was serving, and our front line consisted of a 5’10” left-side hitter, a 6’6” middle blocker and a left-handed, 6”2” right-side hitter. We needed to block or dig to score a point. All throughout the match, however, KW kept setting their big right side hitter to take advantage of the height difference. From the bench, our coaches yelled to switch the blocking scheme. Immediately, our taller right-side hitter switched to block in power (instead of his natural hitting position). Predictably, KW again forced a high ball set to their right side. But this time, the attack was met with a formidable double block. The KW hitter altered his shot. We dug up it and transitioned effectively to score on a tool shot. We won 25-22 to force a third and deciding set.
Over the season, our DA team has experienced many critical third sets. We know how to win. The key to winning these decisive sets is to jump out to an early lead, particularly since only 15 points are needed. With this game plan in mind, our boys exploded from the opening whistle. We crushed some middle attacks to force an early KW timeout with a 4-1 lead. Right after, we continued blasting kill shots from the outside and back-court pipe to keep a substantial lead of 8-4 at the turn. With our aggressive play, we extended the lead to 13-5. But then wheels started to fall off. With some incredible defense, KW scored one, then two and three points in a row. We finally earned a side out to force match point at 14-8. The last point is always hardest to get. KW’s left-side hitter suddenly got hot. He scored 4 of the next 5 points with huge spikes from the power position. At 14-13, our coaches called timeout to settle the nerves. With one good pass and a big swing from our left-side hitter, we finally scored the decisive point to earn our berth to the finals.
In the Championship Finals, we would once again face Pakmen Gold… third year in a row. Both teams are considered the top two teams in the province, if not the whole country. As always, this battle between the two titans in this division would be epic. The first set started tentatively. Both teams traded side-outs early mainly thru middle attacks. Midway thru the first set, Pakmen pulled ahead 16-13. Our DA players still seemed to be playing a bit apprehensively, so our coach called a timeout. Right after the timeout, we started to play more aggressively. Notably, we crushed a back court C-ball attack deep into the corner. Then our shifty float serve took over. A bad pass by the opponent led to a triple block point. Ace. Pakmen called their first timeout. Ace. Shank. Another bad pass tight to the net for an easy block. It was then followed by an easy free ball transition point. Pakmen called their second timeout. With this timely service streak, we cruised to a 25-19 first set victory.
For the second set, we continued to control the tempo of the play. Pakmen looked flat initially. We continued to score with some big attacks. But we also committed a bunch of unforced errors, which allowed Pakmen to stay in contention. At 13-13, Pakmen slowly started to gain some momentum. We missed two consecutive serves, and their star middle blocker was controlling the net play whenever he was in the front court. Besides a huge block, Pakmen seemed to be setting the middle exclusively. It worked. Although we dominated overall game flow, Pakmen hung in and kept it close and then squeaked by with a couple key plays at the end to win 25-23. Pakmen was electrified. Once again, the gold medal would be determined by a third and deciding set.
As noted, the start of a third set is very important. Both teams traded huge attacks thru the middle early on. But our overall game play was the key difference. We served aces, forced out-of-system attacks, dug up huge spikes, and transitioned from defense quite effectively. At the turn, we were leading 8-5. We continued to press with our outside hitters tooling shots off the block. In contrast, Pakmen had trouble hitting outside against our imposing double block. With a 13-6 lead, we learned our lesson from the previous semi-final match. We pushed thru to win the gold 15-8!
Congratulations to Durham Attack Black for a 3-peat! Ontario Provincial Tier 1 Champions for 3 consecutive years. Special recognition was awarded to both Justin Lui and Trystan Morris-Fraser as OVA All-Stars. Special thanks should also be extended to Evan Williams (DA Technical Director) who graciously prepared scouting reports of the competition throughout the tournament and also stayed up late to help the coaches with video sessions. Finally, our coaching staff of Mike Slean, Ian Eibbitt and Nikos Chalaris deserves a lot of credit. Our team was well prepared, ramped up throughout the 3-day tournament, resilient in the face of adversity and played admirably in key situations. It was a total team effort win. With gold medals at the Grand Prix and Provincials, our next test will be the Canada National Championships (Calgary) next month.
Go Attack Go!!