A pair of Seaquam Seahawks (in blue) leap at the net to block an Earl Marriott ball during a Peace Arch News Classic game last October. The Seahawks went on to win the tournament.

A pair of Seaquam Seahawks (in blue) leap at the net to block an Earl Marriott ball during a Peace Arch News Classic game last October. The Seahawks went on to win the tournament.

Teams set to battle for PAN Classic title

Senior girls volleyball tournament enters 21st year; begins Friday in South Surrey

Twenty-four teams – including some of the best in the province – are set to hit the court this week when the Peace Arch News Classic tips off at three South Surrey high schools.

The annual senior girls volleyball tournament, now in its 21st year, begins Friday afternoon at Elgin Park, Earl Marriott and Semiahmoo secondaries, and wraps up with the championship game Saturday afternoon at Semiahmoo.

“There are a lot of good teams coming again,” said tournament organizer Gord Houchen, who coaches the Clayton Heights Night Riders senior girls team, which is currently ranked ninth at the provincial AAA level, and finished third at B.C. championships last year.

The usual crop of local squads – minus Earl Marriott’s senior team, which is not entered this year – returns to the fold, with Elgin Park, Semiahmoo, Clayton Heights, two teams from Lord Tweedsmuir and Earl Marriott’s junior team all slated to take part.

“I think, among the locals, Elgin Park is probably the strongest,” Houchen opined. “They’re ranked seventh in AAAA last I checked, and they’ll be (a contender).”

Also scheduled to compete are Delta’s Seaquam Seahawks, currently the No. 1 team in B.C. AAA rankings; and Elphinstone Secondary, from Gibsons.

“They’re very good, very strong at the AA level,” said Houchen.

Vancouver’s York House Tigers, who compete at the AA level, are also in the tourney for the first time.

Last year’s tournament was won by Seaquam, who defeated the 2010 PAN Classic champion Surrey Christian Falcons in the championship game. Earl Marriott’s senior team finished third, knocking off Clayton Heights in the bronze-medal game.

With so many talented squads on the docket, Houchen was excited for two strong days of competition, especially Saturday, which he expects will be full of close matches.

“On the second day, once the playoffs start, it’s going to be very, very competitive,” the longtime coach said.

“When you get down to 16 teams, that’s when it gets pretty intense.”

The format is such that there’s very little room for error, too. A slow start could potentially knock a top team down early, thus leaving them on the outside looking in when the title games hit the court.

“Once you get going, you better be ready, or you’ll be watching from the sidelines in a hurry,” Houchen said.

The first games of the tournament begin Friday at 1:30 and 2 p.m. at all three schools. Saturday’s competition begins at 9 a.m., also at all three schools, and wraps up with the gold-medal game at 4:30 p.m. at Semiahmoo Secondary.

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