Hope everyone had a great Christmas weekend!
After a couple of months of pre-season training and exhibition matches, our official OVA season started at the beginning of December. Our Durham Attack 17U Black team are the defending 3-time Ontario Provincial and 2-time Canada National champions. Team goals were set high again for this season. Fortunately, we hosted the OVA 17U Provincial Cup at Maxwell Heights (Oshawa) for our first tournament. Home court advantage! Unfortunately, we had two injured players to start the day.
In Preliminary Pool Play, we breezed past the first opponent of the day, Markham Wildcats, in 2 straight sets (25-6, 25-11). However, we unexpectedly dropped the second match to a big Ottawa Mavericks team in 3 sets (25-18, 19-25, 10-15). Yikes! What a bad omen to start the season.
For the quarter-finals, we regrouped and trounced the Ottawa Fusion (25-20, 25-20). In the semi-finals, we held off the under-aged, pesky Storm Riptide 16U (25-16, 25-22) to advance to the finals. Bad news, though. Our starting left-side hitter cramped up his legs and could not finish the match. Hydration is so critically important for elite athletes. Always remember to drink lots and lots of water…
In the finals, we would square off against the Ottawa Mavericks again. Chance for redemption… however, we now had only 7 players on our active roster. Three key players (all who represented Team Ontario 16U last summer) were sitting on the bench and not available to play. With a depleted lineup and a more confident opponent, our coaches (Mike Slean and Nikos Chalaris) made some adjustments. Our 5’10” libero switched positions with a left-side hitter. Yes, the shortest player on our team would be attacking against huge Maverick blockers. Although the players were tired (from having no substitutions all day), this lineup change really sparked some energy on the court. The boys played with the renewed enthusiasm and pure joy… laughing, having fun and playing with no signs of pressure whatsoever. We managed to squeak by with a 3-set Gold medal victory (25-22, 23-25, 15-11). Whew!
Just before the Christmas break, our DA 17U Black team travelled to Waterloo for an age-up OVA 18U Provincial Cup tournament. We were finally healthy as a team. Unfortunately, the weather was really bad. In fact, two teams (from Barrie and Aurora) didn’t even show up due to snow, ice and very poor driving conditions. The tournament organizer had to reshuffle the tournament schedule with the remaining teams. In the morning, we cruised to a couple of match wins in Pool Play: Forest City VBC (25-16, 25-16) and Georgetown Impact (25-14, 25-18).
In the quarter-finals, we would face our fellow Durham Attack 17U Red team, who had just eked out an epic 3-set comeback win against MAC VBC in cross-overs. Due to the schedule adjustments, our players had to wait over 3 hours for their playoff match. The rust from the layoff was quite evident… lots of hitting errors early in the match. We managed to survive a 3-pt deficit late in the first set. Once we got into the rhythm, though, we powered thru to the finals in convincing fashion: Durham Attack 17U Red (27-25, 25-9) and Waterloo Tigers (25-12, 25-12) in the semi-finals.
In the finals, our opponent would be the KW Predators, a local hometown favourite. We know this team very well, since they are considered one of the top 3 teams in the province. Over the summer, the Predators added two key hitters from the London area. With more firepower in the front court, they were brimming with confidence.
The first set started out as a slugfest. Both teams traded side outs with incredible plays. Big banging hits. Big stuff blocks. Big jump spin serves. Neither team was able to sustain any momentum. Late in the game, the Predators had a marginal 2-pt lead. Rather than staying aggressive to close out the win, the Predators’ tempo started to wane. In particular, their serves weren’t as tough, as it appeared that they were playing not to lose the lead. With easier serve receptions and free ball transitions, our high-octane offense was able to push thru to a 25-21 first set win. In the second set, we continued to assert our dominance on the first contact (serves and serve receptions). Our DA boys kept the Predators on their heels throughout the second set to win the Gold in a 25-18 victory.
Immediately right after this match, the whole team got in their cars and started the trek to Rochester that same evening. We were scheduled to compete at the Pace 18U Holiday Classic tournament the next morning. Due to inclement weather, the driving conditions weren’t great but the weather was starting to warm up. When we crossed over the bridge at the border, the fog was so thick that drivers could barely see 10 meters outside the car. Luckily, there weren’t many other cars driving around that evening. No accidents. Just slow driving. After a 3.5-4.0 hour drive, most of us arrived at the hotel just before midnight.
Luckily, we were granted a second match start in the morning in order to get a little extra sleep and rest. The one-day tournament featured the best volleyball teams in western New York, and we were the only Canadian team competing. Our DA team likes to compete against the American teams, who are typically a lot bigger (probably due to their 10 times larger population base). Plus, the U.S. teams often play a different style of game: lots of high balls to the antennae and lots of power from the outside.
In Pool Play, we started the day against the third ranked team in the tournament, Syracuse 18-1. Although we were younger and slightly undersized, we managed to keep the match close and pulled through at the end in a 2-set sweep (25-15, 25-22). For the second match, we faced the host club, Pace Bootleggers 17-1 (younger team who were the same age as us). This match was very close right from the outset. But we managed to win some critical points late and overcame some slight deficits to win (25-22, 28-26). After a one match break, we swept the Lockport VBC (25-13, 25-19) to remain undefeated in the preliminaries.
Although we finished ranked 1st in our pool, we would get no rest or bye for the Playoffs. Instead, we would face the Eden VBC 17U in the quarter-finals right away. This opponent featured three players with heights ranging from 6’5” to 6’8”. Lots of high ball sets and lots of hitting OT (over the top) against our block. In contrast, we ran a quicker offense thru the middle and fast tempo sets to the outside. Once again, the key difference was our first contact. We did a better job at serve receive (to keep all offensive options open), whereas our tough serves kept their offense out-of-system most of the time. We won decisively in 2 sets (25-19, 25-22).
For the semi-finals, we faced the older (and even bigger) Eden VBC 18U team. This opponent featured some great volleyball players. Two Eden players had already committed to NCAA Division I & II schools (for the following year) even before their season had started. Like most of our matches, our DA boys rose to the challenge.
The first set started with both teams trading bombs and thundering spikes. With huge double blocks, our hitters had to look for wipe or tools shots. Eden’s oversized attack was unrelenting. But our team defense was able to scramble to keep the ball alive on many occasions. Long rallies ensued. We managed to convert a couple of critical points at the end to pull away with a 25-21 victory.
The second set looked identical to the first set. Lots of great plays made by both teams. Long tiring rallies. No easy points. Each point had to be earned with an outstanding play. When the score was tied 16-16, we experienced an uncharacteristic mental lapse over the course of the next few points: a setting error, a service error and a hitting out-of-bounds error against a no block. With two evenly matched teams, this was difference in our second set loss, 20-25.
So a third set to 15 pts would decide the match. We started out on fire, jumping out to a 4-1 lead. We were able to maintain the early momentum and led at the technical turn, 8-6. But a couple of odd bounces off the net tape on consecutive serves evened the score. Eden pulled ahead with their star 6’5” power hitter in the front court. High ball sets were crushed down the line over our shorter 5’11” setter. With some breathtaking digs and defensive plays, we managed to repel the onslaught and kept the score close. At the end, we made a couple of critical blocks and some transition tool shots off their block to win narrowly, 15-13.
In the finals, the top-ranked Pace Bootleggers 18-1 were rested and waiting to play us (after receiving a bye and beating a lower-ranked opponent in the Playoffs). Our DA team, on the other hand, looked exhausted. Due to the quirkiness of the one-day tournament schedule, we would be playing our fourth match in a row without any breaks (besides the occasional timeout during a game). Add the prior day’s full tournament in Waterloo and strenuous drive to Rochester, and it’s no wonder why we looked gassed on the court.
We got swept 2-0 in the finals (10-25, 22-25). Yes, the score has been printed correctly. We got absolutely whitewashed in the first set. 10 points only! Not very competitive, whatsoever. Probably the worst game loss ever for this team. But we should hold our heads high. Under different circumstances, we would probably compete very well against this Pace Bootleggers 18-1 team. Coming in second place at this age-up Rochester Invitational should be a proud achievement for our team to start this season.
Special mention also goes out to Justin Lui and Trystan Morris-Fraser who were invited to participate at the Canada Games 18U Winter ID camp (Welland) a couple of weekends ago. The 3-day camp featured 32 of the top players in the province, who have aspirations to tryout and to represent Team Ontario 18U next summer. As two under-aged players, it is quite an honour to be invited to train and to compete at the highest level in the province.
In summary, winning two Golds and a Silver to open the competitive season is a great start! A bigger test, however, is scheduled in a couple of weeks when we travel to Ottawa for the OVA 17U Challenge Cup and to Chicago the following weekend for the USA Boys Winter Volleyball Championships 17 Open. Our DA players should rest well during the Holiday break.
Should be lots of fun in January… Have a happy New Year!
Go Attack Go!!