A year ago at B.C. High School senior girls quad-A volleyball championships, the Earl Marriott Mariners played the role of plucky underdogs – rising from a seventh seed all the way to the gold-medal game, where they lost to the No. 1-ranked Handsworth Royals.
And though the roles are now reversed – this week, it’s EMS entering B.C. championships as the No. 1 seed – the goal remains the same for the South Surrey volleyball squad: a provincial title.
“We’re super-motivated going in because of how last year ended,” said Mariners’ right-side setter, Emma Schill. “Last year, we had a tough loss in the final – we lost 3-0 – and it was hard for us because we’d worked really hard that season.
“This year, coming in as the top-ranked team… we’re ready to show everyone what we can do.”
The Mariners began the season as the No. 9 team in B.C. quad-A rankings, but quickly worked their way to top spot, where they’ve sat for some time. Their ranking was cemented in mid-November after a first-place finish at Fraser Valley Championships.
Provincial championships begin at West Vancouver and Handsworth secondaries Thursday – Marriott squared off against their crosstown rivals from Semiahmoo in their opening game – and the 16-team tournament continues Friday with playoff rounds and the championship game set for Saturday. Cloverdale’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers are also taking part.
For Schill and two of her Grade 12 teammates – Charlotte Pavelick and Tara Coble – this final shot at a B.C. championship banner has been a long time coming; all three have been on Marriott’s senior team since Grade 10.
“They’re my little Grade 10s who aren’t so little anymore,” laughed EMS coach Mark Cassell.
Cassell, who coached Semiahmoo to three straight provincial titles from 2005 through 2007, acknowledged that a senior girls championship would mean a lot for EMS – the school’s junior girls team won a B.C. title last week, and also won in 2009, but has never won it all at the senior girls level.
Cassell and his players all agreed that if the team is to have success this weekend, it’ll likely be due to the team’s stingy defence, which has been improving throughout the season.
“Teams have a hard time putting the ball on the floor against us. If you look at our team… we aren’t a gigantic, tall team. But athletically, they really move around well and cover the court. We can give teams fits,” he said.
Pavelick added that the team’s “chemistry and communication” has also been key to the team’s success so far this year.
Another strength of his team that may help set the Mariners apart from the rest, Cassell added, was depth. The team is so well-balanced, he said, that it’s often difficult at tournaments for others to single out one or two players for praise.
“We actually have a hard time getting all-stars and MVP awards because we’re pretty balanced. There’s no one player who dominates – teams have to deal with all of us,” he said.
Earl Marriott, led by its trio of third-year players, also has the advantage of experience, with so many players having not only one, but two, provincial tournaments under their respective belts.
“If they play relaxed, they’ll be fine. The biggest challenge at provincials – and it’s a challenge for every team, not just us – is the nerves, and the pressure,” Cassell said.
“The teams that deal with that are the ones that do the best, and at the very least, we have players who have been through this tournament before.”
Despite the goal of a first-place finish, Schill said it’s important not to look too far ahead – “That’s how you get into the trouble,” she said – but her coach, when asked, couldn’t resist a brief look ahead to what it would be like to win, especially for his Grade 12 players.
“Their first year, as Grade 10s, I think we came fifth, and last year second,” Cassell said. “So (to win)… it would be quite a moment.”