Over the weekend, our Durham Attack 16U Boys Black competed at the OVA Grand Prix Championships (Cambridge, ON), a two-day tournament showcasing the Top 8 ranked teams in the province. Typically, the Grand Prix format was reserved for the 18U and 17U divisions only, but this year, it was extended down to the 16U division. Unlike typical OVA tournaments, this Grand Prix was stretched over two days. This extended tournament format would provide the participating athletes a glimpse of what it would be like to compete at the university / collegiate level.
More specifically, the matches were spaced well apart allowing each team at least 30-60 minutes for warm-ups. No rushing from one court to another. The two-day format also allowed sufficient time for the players to cool down, ice, rest and recover after each match. The Gold and Bronze medal matches would be best 3-of-5 sets, rather than the traditional best 2-of-3 format.
On the first day, the eight teams were divided into two Pools of four teams each. Day 1 Pool Play rankings would determine the seeding for the Day 2 Playoffs. Our first match in the morning pitted us against a feisty Georgetown Impact team. Although, we had not competed against them this season, our DA boys cruised past this opponent in two straight sets (25-11, 25-20).
Our second match of the day would be a slugfest with the host club, KW Predators. Both team featured big hitters that could drop bomb kill shots from all angles of the court. The key difference was passing. KW struggled with their serve receive and had to hit out-of-system on many different occasions. In contrast, we passed very well allowing our setter multiple attack options. In the end, we swept the local hometown favourites, 2-0 (25-23, 25-18).
For the last match of Day 1, we competed against Storm Inferno, a very familiar opponent. Storm Inferno was ranked #3 coming into the tournament and had already upset us in a prior tournament. In the first set, our DA boys were fired up and eager to avenge the earlier season loss. This amped-up energy overwhelmed the opposition and carried the DA team to a quick 25-13 victory. The second set, on the other hand, was quite a different story. Inferno came out swinging and raised their intensity level. They fought back in spirited fashion and held on to a 25-21 victory. Once again, the match would be decided by a third set to 15 points.
In the third set, we started off with a commanding 6-1 lead. Then the wheels started to fall off. A hitting error out-of-bounds, followed by a shank, another shank, another hitting error, a free-ball passing error and then an ace that just dribbled over the tape. At the turn, we were now behind 6-8. Yikes! Fortunately, Inferno missed a serve and made a subsequent hitting error to help stem the momentum. We finally regained our team composure and started to make some plays. At 12-12, our right side hitter took a big swing cutting the ball cross court (back across his body, since he was right-handed). The attack appeared to be angling out-of-bounds, but the Inferno middle blocker was late closing the block and touched it ever so slightly. Point for DA. On the next play, the Inferno setter set the ball too high and it touched the low ceiling rafters. DA led 14-12. Match point. Inferno called a timeout.
All we needed was one more point to finish the match. Unfortunately, the opposing timeout iced our server as he served it directly into the middle of net. Ouch! No problem, though as we just needed one side-out to finish the match. Our middle attack hit the ball into the net. Double Ouch! Tied 14-14. Our passer then gets whistled on a serve receive overhand passing violation. Triple Ouch! [At the 16U division, all service receptions must be made with an underhand pass. Overhand passing (i.e. volleying the ball) on serve receive is not allowed until the 17U and 18U divisions.]
Down 14-15, we rallied back with some great defense and transition. Our DA team is known for its offensive firepower. After pounding the ball over and over, our hitters decided to attack with some change-of-pace shots. Namely, we started tipping the ball into the pot. Back on their heels waiting for the big attack, the Inferno defenders simply couldn’t adjust to the change in speed. With solid blocking and some great defensive digs from the 6-back position, we rallied and scored the next few points to win 18-16. Whew!!
Since we finished with a 3-0 win-loss record in Pool Play on Saturday, we earned a bye straight into the semi-finals for the next day Playoffs (scheduled for 1:30 pm on Sunday). So our players had ample time to rest, relax and recuperate. For our Team Dinner that evening, we loaded up on carbohydrates at East Side Mario’s and celebrated the 16th birthday of one of our players. After a good night’s sleep, our boys were ready to compete.
For the semi-finals, our opponent would be determined by a couple of matches in the morning. Coincidentally enough, we would face Storm Inferno once again. Fifth time this season! In typical fashion, our DA boys exploded right from the opening whistle. We jumped out to a commanding 6-1 lead again, but this time, we would not relent. Play after play, our boys dominated every aspect of the game. A winning score of 25-7 would reflect our clear cut dominance in the first set.
Storm Inferno, however, has a tendency to come back strong in the second set. This time was different. We were ready for the high energy assault. Early in the match, we traded points back and forth. Then our blocking prowess took over. In one rally, we blocked the ball on three consecutive attack attempts. A few points later, our setter had a monster solo block against their power hitter. Then it was followed by a double block shut-down of their 6’4” middle attacker. Our team blocking and team defense were the key differentiators, as we won the second set 25-13.
For the Gold Medal match, we would face the Pakmen Volleyball Club. How fitting? The Grand Prix finals would feature the top 2 teams in the province.
In the first set, both teams appeared to play with a little bit of apprehension. That is, the energy level on the court felt low, and there were quite a few unforced errors early on. Pakmen settled in and jumped out to a quick 9-3 lead with a series of short serves just inside the attack line. After a few side-outs, we started to take control of the game with our serves. Strong float serves led to a shank, then an ace followed by setting error off an errant pass, a hitting error and then a tipping error. During this service run (12 consecutive points in a row by the aforementioned birthday boy), Pakmen had to burn thru both timeouts. We led 18-11 before missing a serve. For the rest of the first set, we controlled the tempo and won decisively, 25-22.
In the second set, our strong float serves continued to fluster the Pakmen passers. Without a good pass, the Pakmen offense had to attack out-of-system. Our solid blocking at the net caused a lot of Pakmen hitting errors (out-of-bounds) and easy free ball transitions. Once again, the Pakmen coach had to use both timeouts early (at a 10-4 DA lead) to try to break our momentum. Our boys were playing with inspired confidence. Despite a brief rally of 6 consecutive Pakmen points, we managed to hold onto the lead and win 25-18.
With a 2-0 set lead, we opened the third set with an initial service error into the net. Bad omen? Nope. Just the “Law of Large Numbers” catching up to us, after so many great serves in the first two sets. Our strong team play continued to frustrate our opponents. Defensively, our solid blocking forced the Pakmen hitters to hit around, and we dug up a lot of balls on the perimeter. Additionally, we transitioned quite effectively into thundering kill shots from all angles at the net: up the middle, in the lanes, out to the pins in power and counter flow shots from the weak side. We cruised to a third set win, 25-12, to win the match. Gold medal!!
Overall, this tournament was the best showing by far. Great team effort and solid contributions were made by all 10 players. With this Grand Prix win, we should be seeded #1 for the Ontario Provincial Championships next month. High praise should be extended to the coaching staff: Mike Slean, Ian Eibbitt and Nikos Chalarais. About six months into the season, the team has steadily progressed week after week, and has now elevated their play to the next level. Although there is still more work to be done, this weekend’s performance provides a significant milestone as the team prepares for both the upcoming Provincial and National championships.
Go Attack Go!!