The Canadian indoor volleyball season started about 9 months ago (Sept 2015). After months and months of training and competing, the season culminated with the National Championships in May. Again this year, the Volleyball Canada Championships were divided into two tournaments: East and West. Our Durham Attack 16U Black team had already competed against many of the top teams in the East, so we chose to compete in the West to test our mettle against a different group of opponents.
Over the Victoria Day weekend, we traveled to Calgary, Alberta to compete in a 3-day tournament at the University of Calgary Olympic Oval. Overall, there were forty-four teams participating from different parts of western Canada. We were the only team from Ontario. The tournament format would be simple. Each day, pools of 4 teams would compete against one another. The top 2 teams in each pool would stay in contention for the gold medal, whereas the bottom 2 teams in the pool would be relegated to a lower Tier of competition the next day.
On Day 1, we started our tournament against the Central Alberta Kings (Red Deer, AB). This opponent was quite skilled (in terms of ball control) but simply couldn’t match our overall height advantage and offensive power. We swept the Kings in two straight sets (25-17, 25-19) to open the tournament. The next two opponents also succumbed to our offensive prowess in straight sets: SAS Valour Blue (St. Albert/Surgeon, AB) and Focus Blur (Vancouver, BC).
On Day 2, the top 2 teams in each pool (from Day 1) were reassigned to Power Pools and again, our goal was to finish in the top 2 (in order to proceed to the Playoffs on Day 3). Our toughest match of the day would again be scheduled for the first match in the morning. We would compete against the Fraser Valley Volleyball Club (BC). Initially, we traded a bunch of side outs early. Fraser Valley had two big hitters who kept tooling shots off our blockers. Our attack, on the other hand, featured an array of 3-4 options on each play. That is, each one of our players on the court was capable of unleashing an awe-inspiring spike from all angles on the court. With pinpoint passing, we were able to side out virtually at will, particularly thru the middle. Our opponent could not defend against our constant barrage of quick sets, inside shoot sets and back quick sets from our middle attackers. We never relinquished the lead right from the opening whistle, and we won the first set 26-24. For the second set, we jumped out to an early lead and won decisively, 25-18.
After this tough match, our next two opponents proved to be much easier. We swept both the Junior SunDogs (Swift Current, SK) and the Elite West Volleyball Club (Calgary, AB) in 2-set straight victories.
With our undefeated record on Day 2 (Power Pool), we earned a well-deserved bye straight to the semi-finals. We took advantage of this bye to rest and to recuperate with a carbohydrate-loaded Team Dinner at the hotel, some video session review by the coaches and some extra sleep for all the players. Our team looked fresh for the next day’s Playoff Run.
For the semi-finals, we would face the upstart WinMan Clutch Volleyball Club (Winnipeg, MB). This top ranked team from Manitoba had barely survived their pool play in the tournament, having won and/or lost a few close games by a 2-point margin. For the quarter-finals, WinMan actually had to come back from a big first set loss to eke out a narrow 3-set victory. They were clearly the Cinderella team. However, the fairy tale would not end well for them. Our DA boys were ready. We exploded right from the start by stuffing their middle attack with a solo block by our 6’ 6” middle blocker. We then served an ace that dropped inside the attack line and scored on a subsequent net violation. Our attack was unrelenting. We absolutely dominated the net play. Their attackers had trouble spiking against our formidable block, whereas, our hitters blasted shots around, thru and sometimes over their block. WinMan’s only glimmer of hope was their diminutive 5’ 5” left side hitter. This player had a devastating spin serve, which clocked in around 95 km per hour. Wow!! Although this spin serve did score some aces, it was not enough. Our DA boys won the first set convincingly, 25-20. In the second set, we opened with a 7-0 lead and cruised to a 25-15 set victory.
The Gold Medal match would pit us against the Nooks Blue Volleyball Club (Edmonton, AB). How fitting? On the court, the top team in Ontario would face the top team in Alberta for the Canadian National Championships. Off the court, however, the Alberta crowd overwhelmed the handful of parents who traveled from Ontario.
This Nooks team matched up well against us. Their lineup featured a group of fairly tall players ranging from 6’2” to 6’4”. The setter possessed quick release hands, which proved to be quite deceptive. Additionally, a few of the Nooks players would serve spinners (rather than float serves) particularly after watching how WinMan was able to score a few aces on spin serves. The gold medal match promised to be, and it was an absolute slugfest.
For the start of the match, we stuck with our simple game plan. Win the first contact. That is, we would serve tough (to force the opposing offense to run out-of-system) or pass effectively (to provide multiple attack options on each play). As most of the opposing teams discovered, our DA offense runs thru the middle as our first option. Throughout the tournament, we had dominated the middle with our quick tempo sets. To slow us down, the Nooks initially tried to triple block the middle attack. It worked for a couple of points. But then our setter adjusted and decided to use the middle fake to hold the block and to set the outside hitters (either left side or right side). Booming spikes were traded from both teams.
In the first set, we took an early lead and never looked back. We had a 20-15 lead, but then we made a series of unforced errors. Nooks closed the lead and eventually tied it 24-24 on a serve that just dribbled over the tape. Gotta win by 2. Nooks forced a tight set to weak side that led to hitting error into the net. Our set point advantage at 25-24. We then served a very short ball just over the tape in zone 3 inside the attack line. After a sprawling dig, the Nooks setter had no option but to set the ball high outside to power. The Nooks hitter blasted the ball way out of bounds. Our point? No. The Ref called a “phantom touch” even though neither of the lines judges saw it. Argh! [Afterwards, our middle blocker did confess to grazing the ball with his fingernail, so the Ref did in fact, make the right call.]
Tied at 25-25, our left side DA hitter spiked a ball into the tape. Down 25-26, we needed to side out. We maintained our composure, as we have been in these types of pressure situations many times before. After an extended rally, we transitioned a free ball and crushed a quick set in the middle sharply around a double block. Again the score was tied (at 26-26). On the next play, the Nooks kept tipping the ball against our solid block. We dug these tips up easily and swung back, but they managed to soft block a couple of our spikes and kept the play alive. Instead of tipping again, the Nooks right side hitter then decided to swing against our big block… wide and out-of-bounds. No touch! DA led 27-26. At set point, the Nooks setter ran an overload back-court pipe play. That is, our middle blocker was faked out by their jumping front court middle attacker. As our DA blocker was coming down, the Nooks back court attacker was rising up just behind the attack line. Fortunately, the Nooks’ pipe attack hit the tape and dropped on their side of the court. DA won the first set 28-26! Phew.
The second set was just as exciting. Once again, we jumped out to an early lead. Even though we only had a 9-6 lead, the Nooks coach had to burn an early timeout. Thus far, we had carried the momentum from the first set and controlled the overall tempo and rhythm of play. In addition to our dominating middle net play, our outside attackers were hammering spikes from the pins. Our right-side hitter was crushing balls in both the front court and back court (C-balls). When our setter needed an outlet, our left-side hitter bombed kill shots either down the line or sharply cross-court.
But the Nooks managed to hang on. Even though our ball control was clearly superior, the Nooks kept the score tight throughout… only down by a couple of points at most. Both teams were quite effective at side outs. At 21-20, we blasted a ball sharply from the right side to score. On the next play, our shortest player on the court then proceeded to block a setter’s dump to win the joust at the net, 23-20. The Nooks power hitter then painted the line with a clutch, cross court kill shot. After trading big kills shots, Nooks scored another point to bring the score to 24-23. The Nooks server then proceeded to serve a spinner into the net on match point. DA wins the gold medal!
Congratulations to Durham Attack 16U Black team for an incredible indoor volleyball season! Back in Sept 2015, we started the season with 10 players, 3 coaches and 3 major tournament goals: OVA Grand Prix, OVA Provincials and Canada National Championships. Mission accomplished – 3 gold medals in all three major tournaments. Special recognition should be extended to our three Tournament All-Stars: Trystan Morris-Fraser, Amit Sayal and MVP Isaac Northcott. At our recent DA Banquet, several other players were also recognized for their outstanding contributions: OVA Award of Excellence – Liam Cameron; Durham Attack Award of Excellence – Justin Lui and Durham Attack Leadership Award – Adriano Galbiati. A big ‘thank you’ should be extended to all our corporate sponsors who provided the necessary funding throughout the season. Lastly, our coaching staff of Mike Slean, Ian Eibbitt and Nikos Chalaris deserves a lot of their credit for their leadership, selfless volunteer of time and development of our team’s potential. What a great season! Congrats!! Enjoy the summer…
Go Attack Go!!