The Belmont Bulldogs were tested at various times by a gutsy Oak Bay Breakers side, but in the end, the top-ranked senior girls AAAA volleyball team in B.C. stayed undefeated in 2016 and won the Vic Lindal Cup best-of-five final in three straight sets Tuesday.
The home-court Breakers, who needed a third set to beat Mount Douglas in the Cup semifinals last week at Belmont, actually led the Bulldogs midway through all three sets. But the talented, cohesive West Shore side never let things get too far out of hand – they’d hammer a well-placed hit, come up with a big block, post an ace serve and generally get it done.
The third set was a goods example of that. Oak Bay reeled off six straight points mid-game to take a 12-9 lead and led 14-11 a short while later. But with setter Taylee Pomponio serving, Belmont scored six straight points themselves to wrestle control away from the hopeful local side. The clinching 25-18 win followed set wins of 25-16 and 25-21.
For Bulldogs middle Hannah May, winning this longstanding Cup felt pretty special.
“I’ve watched it for a few years, the older girls, and I’ve come and supported them and watched them, so to win it myself and be able to play here is pretty cool,” she said.
Even when they gave up a run of points, as in the last set, the Bulldogs remained calm and dug a little deeper, feeding off each other’s energy, May said.
“We went back to the basics. We had a time out and were like, OK just get a good pass, and from that good pass it was OK, we’re going to get a good set and we’re going to run something, and we know there’s going to be big blocks, so everyone cover. We just kept doing that until it worked and then we just went on a run.”
Oak Bay, a team that had a number of new faces to start the season, has used the tough competition provided by Belmont and Mount Doug to improve their game, said coach Jeremy Schmidt.
“In a lot of ways we’re lucky, that internal local competition really pushes us,” he said. “This was our third match against (Belmont) and we’ve seen continual growth. Part of it is them playing better competition and pushing us to be better … In the end, I think they’re still at a point within their team unit where they’re just so well polished.”
Referee Mark Lindal presented the Cup, which was created a decade or so ago to honour the contributions to the sport of his father, Vic, former women’s national team coach. Mark joked that as referee he has “the best seat in the house.”
“Those are two really great teams that fought hard, and even though Belmont might be a little bit better, Oak Bay kept it close and they had their chances,” he said. “Belmont, it was their day today, but every time, Oak Bay gets closer.”
Bulldogs coach Mike Toakley spoke to his players’ composure, especially in those times when Oak Bay seemed to gain the upper hand.
“They needed to be a little bit worried,” he said. “Somehow, because they’re an experienced group, they don’t panic. It’s something they’ve done since they were 12 years old. They know they can do it, but you’ll see the match be tight, tight tight, then in the end they pull away.”
Continuing to serve aggressively even when they were behind was crucial, he added. “Those rallies, when you’ve got a player in the back who can serve aggressively, those typically are the deciding points right there. You just don’t know who it’s going to come from and you hope you’ve got six players who are capable of it.”
The Bulldogs don’t have much time to rest in the coming weeks. They host a tournament this weekend (Nov. 4 and 5) at Belmont, then next Tuesday host the Lower Island AAAA seeding tournament for the Island championships, being hosted Nov. 18 and 19 at Mount Doug.
For her part, May said she and her teammates are “super excited” to play some even bigger matches in the coming days.