Belmont Bulldogs front row player Sydney Belton (10) winds up for a hit during play this season against Oak Bay. The B.C. third-ranked Bulldogs hope to have Belton back from injury and a full and healthy roster for this weekend's Island AAA girls high school volleyball championships at Mount Dougas secondary. They open the tournament at 1 p.m. Friday.

Belmont Bulldogs front row player Sydney Belton (10) winds up for a hit during play this season against Oak Bay. The B.C. third-ranked Bulldogs hope to have Belton back from injury and a full and healthy roster for this weekend's Island AAA girls high school volleyball championships at Mount Dougas secondary. They open the tournament at 1 p.m. Friday.

Islands Time: West Shore volleyball squads vying for berth in provincials

Belmont, Royal Bay teams contesting Island championships this weekend

There has been many hits, blocks, passes and digs made by West Shore high school volleyball teams this fall. All those matches are preparation for provincial playdowns, which continues this weekend with the Island championships on several fronts.

Belmont’s senior girls Bulldogs, a mostly Grade 11 group with a few Grade 10s in the mix,  have dominated this season, winning most tournaments they’ve entered with the exception of a couple of recent events, when they were missing some key players to either injury or Team B.C. commitments.

With the Bulldogs set to open the pool portion of the AAAA girls tournament at Mount Douglas today (Nov. 18) with a 1 p.m. match against Claremont, Belmont coach Mike Toakley was confident his team will secure one of two automatic berths into the upcoming provincial championships.

“You never want to sound cocky, but if we are as healthy as I think we’ll be by Friday, we should be the favourite,” he said.

Mount Doug, a team with a largely Grade 12 lineup, has beat Belmont twice  lately, at last week’s South Island seeding tournament and at the Belmont invitational the previous weekend. Should it come down to another showdown between these two provincially ranked teams – Mount Doug is No. 2, Belmont No. 3 – Toakley says the Saanich side will see a much different lineup than the one it saw last week.

“We will be healthier this weekend, not 100 per cent, but a lot closer,” he said. “Most importantly we’ll have middle blockers.”

Regular starting middles Gracie May, who was shifted to power hitter due to a teammate’s injury, and Sydney Belton, who was resting a sore knee, are expected back in their positions, while Devon Wooley provides solid backup. Hitter Olivia Godek should be healthy as well, while libero Miranda Cyr, the Bulldogs back-court specialist who played middle recently, will return to her usual spot. And with all-star hitter Savannah Purdy in the mix, it’ll bring the Bulldogs back to the lineup that was ranked No. 1 in B.C. for most of this season.

Mount Doug and Oak Bay will provide the toughest competition this weekend, he said. But with Mount Doug, “you’re going to have to beat them, they’re not going to beat themselves. Oak Bay is a younger team and is more likely to give away points.”

The fact both finalists advance to the B.C. championships and the third and fourth-place finishers are eligible to challenge mainland teams for two more spots virtually guarantees the Bulldogs will reach provincials. “Assuming we finally do get 100 per cent healthy, we’ve got a good shot at it. That’s really exciting and the girls are pumped up at the opportunity,” he said.

Belmont also plays Nanaimo’s Dover Bay (2 p.m.) and Reynolds (5 p.m.) in pool play. The semifinals go at noon Saturday, with the final and bronze medal matches at 3 p.m.

Royal Bay’s senior girls were middle of the pack in city league B pool play this season but did not qualify for this weekend’s Island AAA championship tournament at St. Michaels University School.

Ravens boys on a high heading into Islands

Her team coming off a recent win at the Duncan Christian tournament, Royal Bay senior boys coach Kris Johnson is excited about the Ravens’ chances of moving through the Island AA tournament at Mark Isfeld secondary in Courtenay. The Ravens were in a rebuilding year this season after losing most of their starters to graduation, but finished fourth overall in city league play, and second among AA teams behind only Pacific Christian School.

“To be working together for that common goal and getting all the pieces to fall into place now is just great,” Johnson said.

The Ravens are a young side with just one Grade 12 player on the roster. They’re led by team captain, right side hitter Mitchell Whittla, who played senior volleyball as a junior last season and has won multiple tournament MVP or all-star awards this season. Johnson, who has coached him for five years, called Whittla a “great leader with great court awareness.”

Another weapon up front is left side player Bryden Mandy, whose “crazy vertical” gets him into position to do damage with his hits, Johnson said. Basketball converts Joseph Russell a Grade 11 at middle blocker, and Grade 10 libero Tyler Ball, have also stepped in to play key roles for the squad, she added.

Royal Bay is in a tough pool at Islands with Lambrick Park and Isfeld and is missing starting setter Nolan Thoroughgood this weekend. Nonetheless, Johnson likes her team’s chances of finishing among the top three and qualifying for provincials. It’ll be Royal Bay’s last go at the AA level, as the growing school is expected to move up to AAA next year.

Bulldogs boys angling for upset

As they head to the AAA senior boys Island tournament at Dover Bay in Nanaimo, the Belmont Bulldogs are hoping to upset the apple cart somewhat.

Coach Kris Walushka’s crew discovered something about themselves lately: come out on the attack and believe in yourselves and anything can happen.

“The basketball crew that is now a volleyball crew is still right there and I think we have a good shot at making provincials,” he said, noting that the top three teams advance.

Belmont finished city league play as the fourth-best AAA team and played Claremont in the seeding round on Nov. 9. After being crushed in the first set and rebounding to win the next, the Bulldogs battled the Spartans to a 17-15 loss in the tiebreaker.

“We had a really good finish to our cities. We brought the intensity up and realized that if you play with intensity you’ll have more success,” Walushka said. “We’ve been middle of the pack all year; we’ve been right with everybody, minus Reynolds and Dover Bay (ranked No. 5 and 9 in B.C., respectively), who are just a little bit above. But we’ve beat (10th ranked) Oak Bay this year, we split with Claremont …”

The Bulldogs are a young team, but many of the Grade 11s played senior as Grade 10s last year. It all starts with setter and team captain Nathan Johal – “he’s been a force blocking the last couple of weeks,” adds his coach. Power hitter Nolan Zaragoza is the go-to guy up front, while big middle blockers Tyler Hardy and Jakob Ivanesivic use their size to good advantage.

Belmont plays Reynolds, NDSS and Vanier in pool play, and Walushka sees this team with a good shot at finishing top two there and advancing to the winner’s draw for playoffs.