Durham Attack Black Venom Places 5th at USA National Volleyball Championships


Durham Attack Black Venom Places 5th at USA National Volleyball Championships

Our Durham Attack U15 Black Venom volleyball team recently travelled to Columbus, OH to compete at the USA Volleyball’s Boys Jr. National Championships (BJNC). Unlike other tournaments,  our team had to pre-qualify to earn an invite to this prestigious event. Back in Jan 2015, we had won the Rochester Can-Am Bid Qualifier Invitational to earn our respective berth. This tournament would pit the very best teams from across the United States.

The BJNC was a grueling 4-day tournament. Each day, our team would be assigned to a Pool of 4 teams. We would need to compete against the other teams in the Pool, and the top 2 or 3 teams would advance and stay in contention for the Gold Medal. The lower ranked finishers, on the other hand, would be relegated to a lower Tier of competition for the remainder of the tournament.
On Day 1, we opened with two match wins in the morning but then lost to Pacific Palisade Volleyball Club in 3 sets (19-25, 25-17, 9-15). This southern California team was very strong fundamentally and eventually finished 4th overall. Although we were 2-1 (win-loss) for the day, we managed to finish 2nd in our pool and stayed in medal contention.
On Day 2 of the tournament (Canada Day), the competition got tougher. We squeaked by our first match against a much-improved Victor Volleyball Club (New York) in three sets (18-25, 25-20, 16-14), but then lost a heart-break match to the Southport Volleyball Club (Wisconsin). We should have won. Although we controlled the tempo, we lost the first set and unfortunately, our comeback fell short in the third set on a controversial play (21-25, 25-21, 19-21). At 1-1 (win-loss), we then faced a very formidable opponent for the last match of the day.
Manhattan Beach Volleyball Club (California) was seeded #2 at the BJNC and their high ranking was quite justified. We got absolutely crushed in two straight sets (20-25, 19-25). The scores were not indicative of the play. In Canada, our DA Black Venom team possesses one of the top offences in the country. Unfortunately, it pales in comparison to Manhattan Beach. This top-ranked team featured two current USA National Beach Volleyball champions, a superstar hitter (who recently moved from Florida just to play with this Californian team) and the son of former world beach volleyball champion, Sinjin Smith.  Although we finished 3rd in the pool on Day 2, we were the benefactors of the tournament format and seeding system. Luckily, we stayed in medal contention, but our next day schedule got a lot tougher.
On Day 3, we opened the morning against the 949 Volleyball Club (California). We had faced this team at last year’s BJNC and almost pulled off an upset win. This year, however, their team got significantly better by adding a superstar setter, who eventually was awarded the tournament MVP. Nevertheless, our boys pushed the eventual champions to the limit and lost by just a couple of points in the third and deciding set (17-25, 25-22, 13-15).
Our second match in the pool was a must-win situation against the Houston Volleyball Academy. We rose to the challenge in a 3-set win (26-24, 17-25, 15-9). By finishing 2nd in the pool, we were then relegated to an afternoon tie-breaker pool for the last two remaining spots for the Gold Bracket (i.e. top 8 teams for the next day Playoffs). Again, our backs were against the wall. Our boys  responded valiantly by beating HP St. Louis (Missouri) and Rochester Pace Bootleggers (New York) in convincing 2-set wins.
The Day 4 format would be single elimination Playoffs. Win and play on. Lose and go home. The top eight teams in the Quarter-Finals included 4 teams from southern California (Los Angeles area), 2 teams from Puerto Rico, 1 team from Hawaii… and us, northern Canadians. All these other teams play year-round both indoor and on the beach to further hone their skills.
For our quarter-finals, we would face a re-match against Manhattan Beach. Yes, this is the same team that pulverized us on Day 2. They had dominated every team and hadn’t even lost a set in the
tournament so far. Our boys were really motivated to bring their best. In the first set, we matched their offense point-for-point early-on. That is, we traded side-outs quite effectively. Unfortunately, we had a momentary lapse that resulted in just a few lost points. Although we regained our composure quickly, it was too late. We couldn’t overcome this small deficit, and eventually lost the first set 19-25. The second set started the same way. We traded side-outs one at a time. We were playing our best offence, and we only managed to stay even with them. Then our defense started to take over. We dug up a huge spike to extend the rally. We blocked one straight down. We even kicked a ball soccer-style in a desperate attempt to keep a ball alive. All of these defensive plays scored. We started to gain some momentum. Before you know it, the second set was over. We won decisively (25-15) to force a third and deciding set.
Manhattan Beach appeared shocked and stunned. It was their first set loss during the tournament. It wasn’t just the loss. It was how they lost. Their confidence was shaken. It was the first time during the tournament that they had faced some serious adversity. In the third set, we built upon this momentum and jumped out to a quick 8-4 lead. We even extended the lead to 10-5 at a critical timeout juncture and almost pulled off a huge upset. But the “David and Goliath” story was not meant to be. Manhattan Beach regained their confidence, re-asserted their dominating offensive play, and stormed back to win the last set 15-12.
Overall, our DA Black Venom team finished 5th at the USA National Championships. By far, this is the best showing by a Canadian team in recent years. It demonstrates that our Canadian boys can compete against the top elite teams in the U.S. Special mention also goes to Justin Lui, who was awarded a BJNC Tournament All-Star for his outstanding play.
Our season started way back in Sept 2014 (just after Labour Day). Over the past 10 months, our DA Black Venom boys competed in 13 tournaments, practiced over 65 times, attended weekly physical training workouts, compiled a 50-12 match win-loss record (in U15 division), won a second-straight OVA Provincial Championship title, won a Tier 2 Silver at the Canada National Championships and finished in the Elite 8 of the USA National Championships. It’s been quite an impressive season.

Have a great summer!  Rest well, and let’s look forward to next season…

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