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Five Kamloops teams reach senior B.C. volleyball championships

Representatives from the St. Ann's Crusaders, South Kamloops Titans and Sa-Hali Sabres talk qualifying for volleyball provincials; TRU WolfPack men's volleyball head coach Pat Hennelly eyes recruits

Kayla Dabrowski and the St. Ann’s Crusaders are not willing to let the public in on their quirky superstition.

“We have one tradition when we call a timeout,” said Dabrowski, a Grade 12 student and team co-captain. “I don’t think I’m able to share it. It would bring bad luck to us.”

The secretive Crusaders are one of five teams from Kamloops that will compete at senior provincial volleyball championships.

Everything except hush-hush superstitions was up for discussion with KTW.

THE CRUSADERS

St. Ann’s is sending its boys’ team to Duncan Christian School on Vancouver Island and its girls’ squad to Cedar Christian School in Prince George for single A provincial championship tournaments, which will run from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3.

“They are just so happy and so excited,” said Chandra Mallais, who coaches the girls’ team and is athletics director for St. Ann’s. “I have seven girls graduating and this was their last chance to make it to provincials. In all the [five] years that I’ve been at St. Ann’s, I’ve never known the St. Ann’s [girls’] volleyball team to qualify for provincials, so they are beyond thrilled.”

The Crusaders vanquished King’s Christian School of Salmon Arm in a semifinal matchup last weekend at the A Girls’ Okanagan Valley Championship in Kelowna, the victory securing a place in the final and a berth at provincials.

“Oh, the girls were so ecstatic,” Mallais said. “It was a close game. They were up, we were up, they were up … and then we just kind of turned the corner. Their setting and hitting was just off the charts. The girls were just overjoyed.”

Added Dabrowski: “In that moment, we were ecstatic. It’s actually really special. It’s a really proud moment for everyone in our school.”

Both the boys and girls’ teams from St. Ann’s were dispatched in their respective regional title tilts last weekend in the Little Apple.

Immaculata of Kelowna downed the visitors from Kamloops in the girls’ gold-medal match.

Kelowna Christian School spiked the Crusaders to place first on the boys’ side, but the silver-medal finish was enough for St. Ann’s to punch its ticket to provincials.

The Crusaders’ boys qualified last year for the B.C. championship tournament, but were disheartened, along with many other teams across the province, when flooding across southern B.C. shut down highways and pre-empted their bid for a banner.

“They’re looking for a bit of redemption this year,” Mallais said.

THE TITANS

Of the five teams from Kamloops that qualified for provincials, only the South Kam boys will enter the tournament with Okanagan-champion bragging rights.

The Titans knocked off the Kalamalka Lakers 3-1 on Saturday in Vernon to win gold at the AA Boys Okanagan Valley Volleyball Championship, the victory emboldening confidence ahead of provincials, which are slated to run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 at Pacific Christian School in Victoria.

“The boys are young. I get that. But just the way they’ve grown all year is really exciting,” said Graham MacGregor, head coach of the Titans’ senior boys. “They’re really starting to mature. We have next year in our sights, but you never take your sights off this year, that’s for sure. You want to win all the time.”

The team was pegged fifth in the most recent AA boys’ provincial volleyball rankings, an especially promising accomplishment when considering its youthful composition.

There are no Grade 12s on the team, which features mostly Grade 11 players, including four whom belong to Team B.C. — Alex Howard (outside hitter), Gavin MacGregor (setter), Huxley Wendland (middle) and Brandon Johnson (libero).

“The experience we’re going to get is going to be invaluable because the team is going to be fully intact for next year, too,” said MacGregor, noting some members of his team are entertaining scholarship offers from post-secondary schools.

The Titans’ senior girls cemented their place at provincials by taming the Vernon Panthers in a five-set thriller in the semifinal round last weekend at the AAA Girls’ Okanagan Valley Championship, which took place at South Kamloops secondary.

W.L. Seaton secondary of Vernon earned a 3-1 win over the Titans in the gold-medal game.

George Elliot secondary of Lake Country will play host to the AAA Girls’ B.C. Volleyball Championship from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3.

THE SABRES

The Sa-Hali Sabres’ senior boys volleyball team felt spurned when the location of the 2021 provincials was altered amid flooding and chaos, moved to Richmond from Kelowna.

“They changed venues on us with like two weeks notice and said we’re going to send it down to Richmond because 15 of the 20 teams are from that area,” Sabres’ head coach Mike Chala said. “We kind of got hooped a little bit. We ran it by our parents. We were going to have to fly. They were like, ‘It’s going to cost way too much.’ We should have gone last year.”

The Sabres, including their sizeable group of Grade 12s that is champing at the bit to compete against the best in B.C., knew the importance of a win in a semifinal matchup against Penticton at the AAA Boys Okanagan Valley Championship, which took place last weekend in Kelowna

“All of us knew it without spelling it out,” Chala said. “They knew if we could get past Penticton, we would have achieved our goal and got our berth in provincials.”

Sa-Hali, its roster plagued by illness, prevailed in the semifinal showdown to reach the regional final and claim a spot at the B.C. championship, which will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 at Kelowna secondary.

“I was a bit nervous because we were potentially missing half of our team [heading into Okanagans],” Chala said. “It really starts playing with your mind a little bit. All I could think was, ‘Man, is this going to come crashing down on us this week because half of my guys aren’t going to be able to play, potentially?’ They made it happen.”

The Kelowna Owls, the No. 1 ranked team in the province, squashed Sa-Hali in the Okanagan final.

No Kamloops school has won a senior provincial high school volleyball title since the 2015 Sabres’ girls.

Five teams have a chance to bump the slump in 2022.

NEXT-LEVEL TALENT?

Kamloops cannot lay claim to being a high school hotbed for volleyball.

Due to inconsistency in talent pools, TRU WolfPack men’s volleyball coach Pat Hennelly has been more prone to recruit in Kelowna and Prince George than in his own backyard.

But Hennelly is encouraged by this crop of seniors and juniors, a selection of whom hone skills toiling for Kamloops Volleyball Association clubs to augment high school experience.

“The club system has been robust,” Hennelly said. “And it’s awesome to see this many high school teams go to provincials.”

The WolfPack bench boss said he is recruiting players from South Kam’s senior boys’ team and has been in contact with a couple of the Sa-Hali boys, too.

He also mentioned Caleb Gremaud of Westsyde secondary, a standout for the Blue Wave basketball team.

“He’s definitely a varsity athlete,” Hennelly said. “I think he’s 100 per cent [going to play] basketball, but he could be a varsity volleyball player, as well. No problem.”

Sarah Loedel, an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s WolfPack volleyball teams, has been taking the lead in organizing high school tournaments on campus, including the recent Howler events, which featured 48 junior clubs and 32 senior teams.

Next up is the 24-team Junior Boys Provincial Volleyball Championship, which will run from Thursday to Saturday at the TCC and dovetail with Canada West volleyball action.

TRU will play host to Saskatchewan, with the women to get underway at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday, and the men to follow both nights.