A 13th-place finish at the provincial championships might not raise too many eyebrows.
But for Belmont junior girls volleyball coach Ken Lowe, the fact his team was able to stay on the championship side of the 32-team draw in Delta and give some of the top teams in the tournament a run for their money was a sign the players came a long way this year.
“I didn’t think we could get to this level this quickly,” he said. “It was a good experience for the girls. There’s still disappointment, but we told them from day 1 that getting (to provincials) would be a successful season.”
Playing all season against teams whose lineups had two or more years greater experience in the sport, Belmont’s A team improved steadily to the point where they won the Island crown.
That momentum carried into the B.C. tournament, where they went 2-1 in round robin play to finish second in their pool behind only eventual silver medallist South Delta. After losing the first set 25-21, Belmont forced a tiebreaker with a 27-25 win, then lost 15-9 in the third set.
Up against St. Thomas More Knights of Burnaby in the round of 16 on Saturday, the underdog Islanders won the first set 25-21. They fell behind 6-0 in the second set but rallied later only to lose 25-23, then overcame a 5-0 deficit in the deciding game before losing 15-12.
The Knights reached the bronze medal game Saturday.
Belmont’s final opponent, Port Coquitlam’s Riverside, was the No. 2 team coming out of the strong Fraser Valley. While a win there would have given Belmont a tie for ninth place, the coaches chose to play their bench to give all players some provincial experience.
“Right now they’re still upset about losing, but what they don’t know yet is who they (almost) beat,” Lowe said of his team’s opponents.
Island runner-up Reynolds, the top team for much of the season on this side of the strait, wound up amongst the teams tied for ninth, after winning their final match against Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir.
Other top Island finishers included Nanaimo’s Dover Bay in fifth and NDSS in ninth.
Lowe credited Belmont senior girls coach Mike Toakley for working with the juniors in club volleyball through the winter and helping bring them along.
“It’s nice to see that the hard work and effort have paid off,” Lowe said.
He and Toakley will need to have some serious discussions about the girls volleyball program in advance of the 2017 season. All of the current talented crop of seniors are eligible to return, while much of the junior roster will move up.