It really says something when a Belmont senior girls volleyball team plagued by injuries and forced to forfeit a couple matches in the city 4A playoffs is still ranked No. 10 in the province.
Coach Mike Toakley’s team hosts the final league play evening of the season tonight (Nov. 12, 6 p.m.) in preparation for this weekend’s Island championships at Oak Bay. Looking at how the girls’ season has shaped up, he said he’s never seen anything like it in 30-plus years of coaching.
To cover off for injured players over the past month or so, he’s recruited a couple of former junior girls players, including one who’s committed to ice hockey, and one of the stars off the current junior girls team – who later broke her wrist.
“I’ve never had a season like this, where a team has lost players and picked up players to salvage their season,” Toakley said. “I’m extremely proud of how the girls have adapted to the challenges as they’ve come up, one after the other, after the other.”
Tonight’s action offers a chance to see what works and what doesn’t in the makeshift lineup, he said. Looking ahead to Islands, making the final and claiming one of the two berths into the upcoming provincial 4A championships in Cranbrook will require firing on all cylinders against some tough teams.
With Greater Victoria teams the power on the Island this season, it may come down to who beats who between the top three of Oak Bay, Claremont and Belmont.
“We’ve split with Oak Bay this year, but we haven’t played them with our revamped lineup,” Toakley said. “It’s a real question mark whether this lineup is a better one than what we had before. It’ll be different, for sure.”
Belmont hasn’t lost to Claremont this season.
The Bulldogs’ transformation of necessity has seen established players moved into different roles and newcomers given responsibilities they’ve never had before.
Grade 12 setter Danielle Potier remains in her critical role. But fellow seniors Nicole Bracewell, formerly the team’s libero and sometime defensive specialist and now a rightside attacker; and Cassy Allen, a former middle blocker who has moved over to play leftside, are learning new positions. Less so for Jessica Thomsen, a former rightside who’s been shifted to the left.
Among the newcomers, hockey player Jessica Lusk was recommended to Toakley by Belmont athletic director Ken Lowe, who coached her in junior girls and was impressed by her athleticism. When she’s available, she’s lining up at middle, as is fellow recruit Monique Lutyk, another former Lowe junior who went into the Nov. 4 league night with one practice under her belt yet performed admirably as the Bulldogs won four straight games.
Rounding out the roster are front row players, Rebecca Birtwistle and Allegra Pala, who has been touch and go with a back injury of late.
Both finalists make the provincials, unlike last year when just one berth was automatic. Belmont lost the 2013 final to Vanier of Courtenay and was forced to play in a wild card tournament on the mainland, where it fell short by one spot again for a berth into the B.C. championships. No wild card tournament is being held this year.
• The Belmont Bulldogs senior girls volleyball team opens the Island 4A championships Friday at Oak Bay High with pool play matches against Cowichan (12:10 p.m.), Spectrum (3:40 p.m.) and Oak Bay (4:50 p.m.).
• The day’s results will determine Saturday’s crossover round opponents. The two pool winners receive a bye to the semifinals at noon. The final and bronze medal matches happen at 3:30 p.m.