Our U15 Black Venom boys entered the 2015 OC’s (Ontario Championships) as the defending (Division 1, Tier 1) champions. Opposing teams certainly brought their “A” game, and all were eager to pull off an upset. During the first two days of Pool Play, our boys held firm, and remained undefeated.
On the final day of the OC’s, we started the morning with two quick match wins against London Fire (25-23, 25-18) and #4-ranked Markham Wasps (25-20, 26-24). But the real test would come in the afternoon. In the semi-final match, we faced the #3-ranked KW Predators. The Preds are a very strong team with solid fundamentals and an unrelenting team defensive mindset. As well, the Preds were the local home-town favourites, since we were competing at RIM Park in Waterloo. Scores of “purple” fans lined the court, and the roar from the crowd was deafening.
During the first set, KW came out blazing. The Preds jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. They served tough, swung high and hard off our blocks and scrambled to keep every ball alive. KW won decisively 16-25. This was the first time during the OC’s (and even this whole season for that matter) that Black Venom looked vulnerable. Although we had already beaten this team a few times earlier in the year, it was obvious that they raised their level of play and were determined to pull off the upset.
Our boys, however, were equally determined. In the second set, we also elevated our team play, notably on defense. With a solid double block at the net, it forced the KW hitters to hit around, and our perimeter defense picked up and extended lots of rallies. Our offense then took over. Our setters distributed sets all over the court… setting quick middle, tempo 2 balls to our power hitters, inside shoots in the lane, back meter balls to right side and even high balls to our back court pipe attackers. KW couldn’t match our offense and we prevailed 25-20 in the set. In the third and deciding set, we continued and extended the momentum to secure the comeback win 15-7.
In the finals, we would face our arch-nemesis, Pakmen. This would be a phenomenal match-up, as both teams are considered the top two teams in the province. Both teams feature super-charged offense attacks and are considered equally matched in all aspects of the game. It was a year ago when our Black Venom boys had squeaked out a thrilling 3-set gold medal victory over Pakmen (as U14 boys). Pakmen was certainly hungry for redemption. Their new coach, a highly decorated former OVA champion, watched and studied our team play throughout the OC’s (and the season) to find and exploit our weaknesses. He designed a brilliant game plan, and the Pakmen boys executed it flawlessly in the first set by winning 17-25 in dominating fashion.
Once again, our backs were against the wall. We had to win the next set to extend the match. Our coaches responded and disrupted their game plan by making a couple of roster changes to the starting line-up. With this new line-up, the Pakmen boys couldn’t rely on the same match-up looks for either serve-receive or hitting/blocking at the net. This DA coaching change effectively neutralized Pakmen’s slight advantage. Now the game would be decided on the court. Who wanted it more?
The second set was a complete see-saw nail-biter. Both teams traded side-outs in convincing manner. That is, there were very few unforced errors made by either team. No free points. Points were earned by crushing spikes, devastating blocks and unbelievable digs and rallies. We were able to get a narrow 1-pt lead early and maintained it all the way to 22-21. Our mental toughness training (thru the new Durham Attack Club initiative this year) started to kick-in. Our boys remained composed at this critical juncture. They looked confident and played assertively.
Pakmen served tough, and they blocked our power hitter. But we covered the attack, recycled it and barely got it back over the net. Pakmen’s setter then set a high ball set right to the antennae. The attack was met with four solid hands pressed over the net. We blocked it high into the back court. They recycled it and set the power hitter again. But we blocked it again, but this time, straight down for the decisive point. We scored a subsequent ace and another middle attack to win the second set, 25-22.
The match was evened up, and once again, the gold medal would be decided by a third set to 15 points. The start of the third set was much like every other set… lots of points traded back-and-forth. At the turn, Pakmen led narrowly, 8-7. But the court atmosphere was starting to shift. At the beginning of the match, there were lots of Pakmen fans including one loud fan pounding a drum from the sidelines. As the match wore on, more and more DA players / parents from other age divisions started to filter in. Pretty soon, there was a sea of red and black fans sitting at the edges of the court all chanting, “Let’s Go Attack… Attack, Let’s Go!”
After three days of intensive play at the OC’s, our boys looked fresh compared to the Pakmen boys. With extensive Team 12 weekly conditioning (over the season), and distributing playing time evenly amongst all the boys on the team throughout the tournament, our line-up appeared more energetic and dynamic. Right after the turn, Pakmen did block a huge hit to score another point, 9-7. But then they missed a key serve long way out of bounds. Then they let a ball dribble over the next for an ace. And then we scored another ace on a float serve down the line. The Pakmen boys looked flat-footed. DA took the lead 10-9. Pakmen: Timeout!
Coming out of the timeout, Pakmen received some inspiration from their coach and started booming attacks from their huge middle blocker and left-side hitter. Big thundering spikes!! But we all know that hitting is for show. Defense wins championships! The DA team defense was incredible. During one rally, we had 5 different players making incredible dives just to keep the ball alive. No one wanted to let the ball hit the floor.
With DA leading 13-12, Pakmen possessed the serve and had their biggest blockers at the net. They served deep to force our left side hitter to back up to pass the ball, and it effectively took him out of the play. The pass was off the net, which didn’t allow our setter to set our middle attacker. Only one option remained… a high ball set to the weak side. Pakmen designed this play, as their two big blockers cheated over early looking to stuff the hit. Rather than trying to hit straight down, our hitter looped a “jumbo shrimp” over the block. This is more of a beach volleyball shot, which is a high arcing attack over the block and team defense with lots of top-spin to the opposite corner. It landed right on the corner line. Both line judges called it in! Pakmen were absolutely stunned.
On our serve for match point, the knuckleball serve floated right between two players. Neither player moved for the ball. It landed with a thud. Ace!! DA Black Venom wins the gold medal, 15-12!
Next up… Canada National Championships in Calgary, AB (May 16-19, 2015). Go Black Venom Go!!