Champions, at last.
After five top-five finishes – and two championship-game losses – in the last five seasons, the Earl Marriott Mariners senior boys volleyball team finally snagged what they’d been so close to winning for the last half-decade: a provincial title.
Saturday night in Kelowna, in the finals of the BC Boys AAA Championships, the Mariners – ranked No. 2 in the province heading into the tournament – defeated the No. 1-ranked Kelowna Owls in four sets (25-11, 23-25, 26-24, 25-20) to claim the banner.
“The boys had come so close (before), and their mindset heading into the final was that they just weren’t going to let it happen again,” said EMS head coach Bob Smith.
“That’s really what drove them – they didn’t want to be second anymore.”
Last year, the Mariners finished fifth at provincials, and in both 2011 and ‘10, placed second after losing in the finals. The team was also fifth in 2009.
“In previous years, by the time we got to the finals, we were either really beat up and injured, or just outmatched,” Smith said Monday.
“We lost both of those finals in three straight games, and this year, we won the first set handily, and I think the boys were in a state of shock, a little bit, that they’d finally won a game in the finals.”
After a 25-11 first-set win over the Owls, the host team fought back to tie the series 1-1 – “We came out a little nervous after winning the first game, Smith said – but in the third set, EMS battled back from being down 16-10 to win it 26-24, with “a huge stuff-block from Justin Faester” giving the Mariners the win.
Then, with a 2-1 advantage heading into the fourth set, the confident Mariners cruised to the title with a 25-20 win. Though Smith said the fourth game “was a lot of back and forth” the Mariners surged ahead after a series of great serves from Grade 10 Tyson Smith.
“He made five or six tough serves, including a couple aces, and that helped us open it up a bit,” Smith explained. “Then a bit later, we had two great kills from Eric Lee, and that ended it.”
The finals weren’t the only time the Mariners got off to a hot start. They also cruised undefeated through the power-pool – in which the top four seeds play each other in order to re-rank teams for playoffs.
Earl Marriott won all three games, including a win over Kelowna, to whom they’d only beaten once this season in three attempts until that point.
The Mariners also edged Mount Boucherie and Steveston-London en route to being named the top seed for the playoff rounds.
Semiahmoo was the other South Surrey representative at provincials, finishing 14th out of 20 teams.
Marriott’s Jacob Smith was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, while Byron Keturakis and Faester were named to the first all-star team, and Lee named to the second.
The senior boy’s championship wasn’t the only podium finish for Earl Marriott, either. The school’s senior girls’ team won a silver medal at BC quad-A senior girls championships in Penticton, losing to top-ranked South Delta in the championship game.
Simply advancing to the finals was something of an achievement for the Mariners, as they were the No. 9 seed heading into the tournament.
“It would’ve been nice to have been first, like the boys were, but we ran into a really tough, good team in the finals, and that’s how it goes,” said head coach Mark Cassell, who, in 2005, was the head coach of the Semiahmoo Totems senior girls when the school swept both senior boys and girls provincial titles.
“For us to get to the finals, that was an achievement. It was fantastic – it was very exciting.”
Earl Marriott placed third last year.
Cassell said the team’s run to the finals – in a tourney he said was “the deepest provincial championship in years” – was made possible by two things: some lineup and matchup adjustments, and his team simply playing better than they had all season.
Cassell did admit that his troops may have been a bit worn out by the final game Saturday, as a result of playing semifinals earlier that day, as opposed to Friday night.
“Saturday was a bit of a grind, for sure,” he said.
Christie Faester and Cara Keturakis were named to the first all-star team, while Emma Davey and Shayla Stausgaard were second-team all-stars.