In the end, the championship experience of the Semiahmoo Totems came through.
The Totems won the first two sets 25-21 and 25-22 of the gold-medal match of the BC high school volleyball AAA championships on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre.
So when the Mount Baker Wild — the tournament’s top seed — came roaring back with 25-18 and 25-12 victories to force a fifth and deciding game, the Totems were able to draw on last year’s experience, when they captured the provincial banner.
“You know sometimes you see the light at the end of the tunnel and think it’s the sun? Well, it was a train,” said Semiahmoo coach Michael Sapic, who also won a provincial title as a player, with Richmond’s McNair Secondary in 1979.
The coach said he didn’t even let his players to the bench after the one-sided fourth set.
All he told them was that the first four sets didn’t matter and that at the start of the season, they would have gladly accepted the chance to play in the fifth set of the gold-medal game.
The teams were tied at six in that decisive set, but the Totems scored nine of the final 15 points to win 15-12.
— Gary Ahuja (@garyahuja1) December 3, 2017
“I just told myself and my team to stay calm,” said Semiahmoo’s Mike Dowhaniuk, who earned his second consecutive most outstanding player award.
“Just do what we have done all year and play Semiahmoo volleyball and it worked out in the end for us.”
The provincial senior boys title was the fifth in school history – the school also captured B.C. AAA championships in 2005, 2008 and 2010, in addition to the current back-to-back run. South Surrey teams have dominated the tournament over the past dozen seasons; in addition to Semi’s championships, Earl Marriott also has two first-place finishes – in 2013 and ‘14.
This year, EMS won bronze – they lost to Semiahmoo in semifinals Friday night – while the Elgin Park Orcas surprised many by leapfrogging from an initial 11th seed into a sixth-place finish.
The Totems were seeded ninth for provincials after placing third at the Fraser Valley championships and Dowhaniuk said their semifinal loss at that tournament was a good wake-up call for the team.
Semiahmoo was second in their pool after going 2-1 on the first day of provincials. They then beat Kelowna 3-0 in the round of 16, won 3-1 over Penticton in the quarter-finals and 3-0 over Earl Marriott in the semifinals.
Mount Baker went 3-0 on the first day before winning 3-1 over Reynolds, 3-0 over Elgin Park and 3-0 over Seaquam on their way to the championship final.
“Coming out, the boys were playing a little scared,” admitted Wild coach Karley Ferner. “The first two sets, giving them those two, obviously didn’t help, but they weren’t playing with confidence – they were playing a little bit scared, they were swinging a little scared.
“Once they got through that, they were pretty unstoppable for a while.”
The Wild’s second-place finish matched their result from 2001, a best-ever for the program.
“We knew we had the talent. It’s a good finish — it’s bittersweet, we are really happy to get number two but of course, you want the win. But they put the work in and accomplished what they wanted to do,” Ferner said.
Mount Baker’s Quinn Grist and Caleb Peters were named first team all-stars while Semiahmoo’s Braxton Campbell and Adam Paige were also named to the team.
Though they didn’t end up on the podium, the undermanned Elgin Park squad – which features just eight senior players, plus a pair of juniors who were called up for provincials to help fill out the roster – put on an impressive showing early in the tournament.
The Orcas, seeded 11th, won all three of their games in pool play – defeating Argyle, Kelowna and Royal Bay – before knocking off higher-ranked Mount Boucherie in the first round of playoff action. The win guaranteed the Orcas a spot in the top-eight, though it meant a second-round date with Mount Baker, who were the top-seeded team in the province heading into the tournament and defeated Elgin 3-0.
“We didn’t play horribly, but Mount Baker is just a really good team,” coach Melissa Bonn told Peace Arch News Friday afternoon, a few hours after the loss.
“It’s been a very good (week). We’re are extremely happy and extremely proud.”
Both Bonn and fellow Elgin coach Trish Wagner chalked up the loss to Mount Baker’s “superior” defence.
“It’s not that we were making errors – we just couldn’t get it past them. We played hard,” Wagner said.
The quad-A senior girls tournament – also held at the LEC, concurrently with the boys’ tourney – also featured a South Surrey team on the podium, as Earl Marriott Mariners finished in bronze-medal position.
The Mariners defeated their crosstown rivals from Semiahmoo in the third/fourth-place tilt on Saturday afternoon, after having been bumped from championship contention earlier in the day by North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals, losing a gruelling match in five sets.
Semiahmoo, meanwhile lost its semifinal tilt to the eventual champion Belmont Bulldogs from Victoria, who defeated Handsworth in rematch of last year’s quad-A provincial final. Belmont also won in 2016.
The Bulldogs won the match with relative ease, 3-0 (25-12, 25-16, 25-16) – which head coach Mike Toakley said surprised him.
“But maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, after the match (Handsworth) went through with Earl Marriott,” he said. “Going to five sets takes a lot out of you. I think from the get-go, it was obvious they were not as strong as they normally would be — we played them earlier this year and we know how good they are when they are fresh.”