A pair of championship droughts are over for two South Surrey high-school volleyball teams.
And while it’s been only six years since the Semiahmoo Totems senior boys were last crowned B.C. champions, the wait for a new senior girls championship banner to be hung at White Rock Christian Academy was more than double that.
On Saturday in Kelowna, the WRCA Warriors defeated Kelowna Christian – playing in front of a raucous home crowd – in the gold-medal game of BC single-A senior girls volleyball championships to claim the first provincial volleyball title for the school since 2003.
In the 13 years since, WRCA teams have come close – last year, they finished third – but were never able to get into the winner’s circle until Saturday.
“It’s been a while, for sure. It’s exciting, I’m really happy for our (four) seniors, because this was their last chance,” said David Carrasco, who coached the team along with his wife, Lauren, a teacher and volleyball co-ordinator at the South Surrey school.
“I was surprised at how good (White Rock) was,” said Kelowna Christian coach Dave Bingham. “Our girls fought hard, but after the first few points of the match I could tell we were going to be outgunned.”
Though all schools at the single-A level are, by definition, small in population, Carrasco said WRCA was among the smallest schools at the tournament, and one of the few that had key players as young as Grade 9.
Making last week’s title run more impressive was how they accomplished it, never losing a single set along the way.
“That’s the big story, for us. I don’t think there’s too many times that’s happened before,” said Carrasco.
“It’s just amazing how everyone came together – we were really one team.”
Carrasco said the championship celebrations meant a lot to Lauren, who has been at the helm of the school’s volleyball program for years and who only returned from maternity leave in October.
“These are the girls she’s taught and coached since Grade 7, Grade 8. I was pretty emotional,” he said.
Aside from the title win, WRCA earned a semifinal victory over Aberdeen Hall and, prior to that, beat Duncan Christian and Centennial Christian in earlier-round games.
White Rock’s Cecilee Max-Brown was named tournament MVP, while Rebecca Kirkpatrick and Gabby Brown were named to the all-star team.
“She was very hard to defend against,” said Bingham, of Max-Brown. “She just hammered everything they gave to her and was the difference-maker.”
Totems top Owls
Also on Saturday, at the Langley Events Centre, the Semiahmoo Totems senior boys ended a championship dry spell of their own, cementing their place among B.C.’s top AAA senior boys programs of the last decade.
It had been six years since the South Surrey squad last hung a blue banner on its gym wall, and the weekend win means a ‘2016 champions’ flag will now hang next to similar ones from 2010, 2008 and 2005. In 2006, they also placed second.
This year’s win came in dramatic fashion, too, as the No. 2-seeded Totems knocked off the top-seeded Kelowna Owls, who’d sat first in the provincial rankings for much of the season.
The closely contested final – a five-set thriller won 3-2 by Semi – came to an end when Semiahmoo’s Michael Dowhaniuk fired a rocket back at the Owls that hit the floor untouched. Seconds later, he was mobbed by celebrating teammates.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Dowhaniuk said in a story posted on the tournament’s official website.
Dowhaniuk, in the same interview, said the stress and strain of the event had taken its toll by the midway point of the final, but he was able to reset – “I just kept breathing for a minute… then I was ready to go again,” he said – and help his team to the win.
With the game tied 14-14, it was Dowhaniuk who scored his seventh and eighth points of the set to give the Totems the title.
“Our defence and blocking was really important,” said Totems coach Maggie Knight. “Our defence was shifting around the block, and our libero came up big.”
Brian Wallack, Adam Paige and Braxton Campbell all had key blocks down the stretch.
“They were a huge momentum thing for us,” Dowhaniuk said.
In semifinals Friday night, the Totems defeated the Seaquam Seahawks in three sets to earn a spot in the gold-medal showdown.
Earl Marriott – which lost to Semiahmoo in quarter-finals – and Elgin Park, who finished in 17th place, were the other South Surrey schools in the provincial tournament.
Dowhaniuk was named tournament MVP, while Paige and Earl Marriott’s Malachi McMullin was named first-team all-stars.
In quad-A senior girls volleyball provincial championships, held in North Vancouver last weekend, the Earl Marriott Mariners placed third overall.
Earl Marriott – the top seed heading into the tournament – defeated their crosstown rival Semiahmoo Totems 3-0 in the bronze-medal game to snag the final spot on the podium.
The game was a solid rebound effort after the squad was eliminated from championship contention Saturday morning, losing to the No. 10-ranked Belmont Bulldogs, a Victoria school that completed a Cinderella run through the tournament by defeating the Handsworth Royals Saturday night to take home the banner.
Handsworth defeated Semiahmoo in the other semifinal Saturday morning to set up the all-Surrey battle for bronze.
Both Belmont and Semiahmoo had to qualify for B.C. championships through the wild-card process, winning play-in games after regional tournaments wrapped up in late November.
Handsworth and EMS, meanwhile, were no strangers to advancing to the Final Four at provincial championships, having squared off in the 2015 championship game, which was won by the Royals.
– with files from