The Nationals…& The end!
May 17 – 19, 2015 Calgary
The end…… for another fine group of Durham Attack players as they played out their last court appearances under the Durham Attack banner. It didn’t matter if they had played together one year, two years, or, in a couple of cases, six years, the boys came into this final championship determined to play with no regrets. And putting aside their not medaling, they did.
The 18U Boys were ranked 6th in Ontario; a little psychological edge over their first day opponents. Case in point, their 1st match. The #1 ranked Quebec Titans Limoilou, appeared surprised as our boys jumped to an early lead, and encountered little pressure in maintaining that lead through to a rather speedy 25-19 win. Set 2 did show us why Limoilou is #1 in Quebec, for they came back strong and determined, gaining a brief lead and then matching Durham point for point while our boys got their mindset wrapped around this new defence. Once DA settled down, focused on their blocking and serving, to accompany their usual strong hitting, they started controlling the pace of the game. After this, only DA mistakes accounted for Limoilou’s points. Enough for it to be a much closer contest than it needed to be. Fortunately the lead was maintained and the set won 25-22.
Then came the Junior Bison, Manitoba’s #2 team. Again the quick, enthusiastic play of Durham unsettled the Bison in the early stages. The focused play of our hitters and blockers, accompanied by excellent serving, resulted in a very lopsided 25-12 victory. Unfortunately, our blocking….or should I say lack of blocking, can be our downfall, especially when accompanied by a round of bad serves. This was the story of set 2. And to give Bison their due, they did start hitting and blocking in a way that was all but absent in set 1. No excuses, but some iffy Ref calls and an “out of rotation” penalty seemed to frustrate our team and they took a little too long getting it back together, resulting in a 19-25 loss. The tiebreaker saw both squads pulling out all the stops in their quest for victory. Similar patterns developed, as both teams went for the rollercoaster approach to points getting. We had some solid blocking, they had some solid blocking. We had some bad serves, they had some bad serves. We had some beautiful serves and hits, they had some beautiful serves and hits. It became a contest of who would blink first and make the fateful game ending error. At 14-12, we served long, Bison couldn’t capitalize on it and our hard hitting Mr. Hatz bounced the winner off their block.
The final game of day one was against Alberta’s #6 team, the Canuck Tropics. After a somewhat sloppy start, DA gave their collective heads a shake, started playing with strong, block splitting hits, visually exciting digs, accurate passes and near perfect serving. All wrapped up with Tristan’s pass up to Brad’s set for Jared’s killer slam and the 25-16 win. While the Bison had some good plays in set 2, after the first few points it was pretty much a repeat of the 1st set. Good serving by all, along with solid blocking from Tristan, John and Brad, aided in the points gotten by John in the middle, and hitters Alex H. and Jared. Finally, Jared’s back-to-back spin serve aces capped off another 25-16 knockout.
As expected, there was a noticeable rise in the level of competition on day 2. Durham’s 1st challenge was Alberta’s #3 team, the NAVC Golden Bears. Drawing the early wave again, our boys bucked their own tradition of slow starts, hitting hard and digging with enthusiasm from the first serve. And the serving! With only two missed serves in the 1st set, matched by NAVC, and none in the 2nd, every player helped in confidence building and maintaining the swift flow of the match.
No question both sets were exciting to watch. After the two (early) missed serves in the 1st, Durham didn’t give up the lead, although it was rough going as the hard hitting bigger Bears team made swiss cheese of our blocking. But, with other aspects of their game working for them, Durham gave as good as they got, and a little more, with a timely block, a picture perfect set and John’s resulting 27-25 killer middle slam.
Set 2 didn’t start off too well for our side, as the Bears continued to work through, around and over our blockers. After falling behind 7-14, DA took a timeout to regroup and hopefully interrupt the Bears momentum. It worked, as the Bears got carded (again), frustrated and then momentarily lost control of their hitting. Taking the lead with Jordan’s back court slam, Durham continued to dig away at the Bear’s defences, with Alex H. killing down the sidelines, Greg performing acrobatic digs and Brad executing sneaky tip overs. Cody, our pinch server, came in and kept the action going in our favour, until an extremely lucky roll over off a weak return garnered the 25-23 victory. It was one heck of a final rally.
Ranked #1 in Nova Scotia, Intrepide was next in Attack’s crosshairs, and while there were moments of concern in both sets when our boys let their focus slip a little and their play became sloppy, their hearts were strong and their belief in each other unfailing. They stayed relaxed and took Intrepide in two sets, 25-19 and 25-20.
Manitoba’s #1 squad was Durham’s last match of the day. The Winman Wesman are a tall, strong, heavy hitting club. Durham’s play was solid and the boy’s efforts kept Winman on their toes, but DA had few answers for Winman’s smashing kills. Durham played well in the 1st set but were defeated 19-25. Set 2 was a closer contest as our guys stepped up, started digging returns and blocking and serving as we all knew they could. The boys played up to their competitor’s level, pushing them all the way, but a quick response to a solid block secured the Winman the 22-25 victory.
The final day of competition, while shorter than we would have liked, never-the-less was a quality experience. The fellas got the opportunity to play in the Corral, where three days earlier we witnessed Canada’s national team defeat Cuba. Playing on this court allowed friends and family across the country the chance to watch them, as the game was streamed to the internet. Their opponents; The Nooks, Alberta’s #1 ranked team. It must be the fertilizer on the food crops out there, for here was another western team of great height and strength. Not that Durham are slouches, no indeed. They were prepared for what The Nooks threw at them, responding in kind. In the 1st set, Durham’s serving, blocking and hitting were all working to order and when that happens, they win. And they did, taking a very close set 25-23. Set 2 was another display of very evenly matched teams playing with all the gusto they could muster, hitting, digging and making great 2nd and 3rd efforts. Unfortunately, with such a close pairing, it only takes a mis-play or two in succession to tip the scales. DA made those mistakes in this very spirited set, which The Nooks finished with a very hard bounce off our blockers. The tiebreaker was pretty much all Nooks. They read our sets, blocked way too many times for Durham to establish a counter offensive and hit winners with abandon. For Durham Attack 18U boys, the Nationals ended with an 8-15 loss to the eventual Silver medalists.
In summation, fifth place at the national level is no minor accomplishment. As another observer noted, “To put things in perspective, the team was only 1 of 2 Ontario teams to compete in Tier 1(the entire weekend)”. Consider also, the only two teams to best our boys, throughout the three days of competition, were the teams that eventually met in the gold medal match. And, Durham Attack was the only team to take the eventual Silver medalists to three sets.
So as the 2014-15 edition of Durham Attack’s 18U Boys Black disperse for the final time, they can do so with heads held high and filled with great memories of their time with Durham Attack Volleyball Club.