The cavernous gymnasium at Dunsmuir middle school echoes with the thumping sound of spiked volleyballs hitting the floor.
It’s a holiday Tuesday and the Belmont Bulldogs senior boys team is mixing in with members of the Camosun Chargers men’s team – some of whom are Belmont grads.
The younger players are going through drills in preparation for this weekend’s six-team Island AAA championships at Nanaimo’s Dover Bay secondary.
The Bulldogs, who finished second overall in the multi-level, combined city league with a 19-9 record, enter the draw as the No. 3 south seed after beating Claremont but losing a tough three-set match to Reynolds the recent South Island AAA playoffs.
Belmont head coach Kris Johnson said league play and the previous playoff results essentially go out the window once a team moves on to the next round.
“It’s always a chance for a fresh start,” she said. “It’s a chance for them to demonstrate that they’re capable.”
Belmont gets a chance to redeem themselves Friday at the Islands, being placed in a pool with Reynolds and North Island champion Dover Bay for the opening round.
The team’s first goal is to win their pool and from there, anything can happen, Johnson said. The top four teams qualify for the provincial championships, scheduled for Nov. 26 to 29 at the Langley Events Centre.
“One of the things that was evident at the South Islands was the way they maintained their composure,” Johnson said of her players. “They’re a scrappy team. They don’t stop. We’ve been down in some pretty big matches and came back.”
Assistant coach Jaden Mandy, a 2014 Belmont grad who’s helping Johnson this year, said they saw a few things they needed to change and were working this week on “tuning up with a few different drills.”
Johnson said having Mandy around this season has been a huge bonus for the team.
“He brings experience and an unreal understanding of the game,” she said. Being a former teammate of many of the Bulldogs, and still being close in age helps him relate better to them at times, Johnson added.
The side is led on the attack by team kills leaders Jakob Purdy in the middle and Tobias Hayward, who alternates between left side hitter and libero. The two Grade 12s are a contrast in appearance, with Purdy the prototypical volleyball front liner standing six-foot-seven, and Hayward just five-nine but possessing incredible leaping ability.
“Those guys have both been game-changers for us,” Johnson said, noting they’ve come up with the some key points in big matches this season.
Another player who has stepped up when needed is Grade 11 right side Ben Ousey.
Grade 12 setter Lucas Longstaff is as steady as they come, consistently putting up well-positioned passes to his teammates.
Belmont has a mix of ages on the team, with seven Grade 12s, six Grade 11s and two Grade 10s, in the absence of a junior boys team this fall.
Round robin play goes today, with crossover playoff matches happening Saturday in Nanaimo.