At 5-foot-4, Émilie Wong epitomizes what the Lambrick Park Lions volleyball team is all about.
“We’re a short team, a scrappy team. We were the smallest team at the (AA) Island championshps and we’ll probably be the smallest team at provincials,” said coach Chris Koutougos.
Despite winning the Island championship at St. Michaels University School last week, the Lions do not have a top-three finish in their sights when they attend the AA girls provincials, beginning Nov. 29 in Nanaimo.
Instead, the team which won AA silver at the past two provincials is hoping for a top-10 spot.
“We’re confident in our hard work and no matter what the outcome we’ll be happy,” Wong said.
Wong is part of a core of Grade 11 players on the team returning to the Lions next year, and this year is building towards that. The team uses heart in place of height, of which Koutougos estimates the team’s average is 5-foot-6.
“We win games we have no business winning, our strength is in our team,” Koutougos said.
Before defeating Brentwood College in the Island final, the Lions had to survive the semifinal. Host St. Michaels had the Lions on the rope in the fourth set, with leads of 9-2 and 19-12.
“To face elimination (in the fourth set) then win the way we did, on a 13-4 run, is unheard of. It was the best I’ve ever seen (St. Michaels) play but we were able to rally.”
Wong’s calming demeanour and competitive nature was crucial to the Lions in that game against St. Michaels, said Koutoutgos.
It’s one of her greatest strengths, and reasons she is captain of the Lions. Wong is following in the footsteps of a chain of great Lambrick Park captains. Last year it was Tyger Holt, a 6-foot-2 rookie now playing volleyball for the University of Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and 2010 captain Taryn Gmitroski, who plays volleyball for the University of Alberta Augustana Campus in Camrose.
Wong was a teammate with both of them, making this her third straight trip to provincials.
“I was pretty small kid in Grade 9, and (Gmitroski) had to pump me up. Whenever I think about how to lead, I think about what they did. (Holt) pushed us a lot, too.”
Wong is also contemplating a college start to her post-secondary studies so she can keep playing volleyball. But it’s not such a simple decision for the award-winning academic.
She has a 4.0 GPA and had the top chemistry 11 mark last year, as a Grade 10 student.
“I’m hoping for a (university) scholarship in both, and I’ve given a little thought to starting at Camosun. I know the coach (Chris Dahl) and that would be fine,” Wong said.
Wong will likely return for her second season as captain next year, a team that is mostly Grade 12s.
The expectations will be higher then, and until then, it’s all about working hard and having fun, she said.
2012 grad Chelsea Strandlund is back as an assistant coach with the Lions. Last year she was the MVP of the AA provincials despite the Lions finishing second. Her sister Jasmine is a Grade 11 student currently with the Lions. Both are exceptional baseball players. Chelsea has lined up a scholarship to play baseball for the University of North Carolina in Greensborough, an NCAA
Div. I program.