The landscape has changed in club-based girls volleyball in B.C.
But even assembling some of the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley’s top individual players in an academy program, and placing the best of the best on one team, wasn’t enough to beat the Victoria Volleyball Association Chargers.
The Chargers, most of whom played for the B.C. Grade 10 champion Belmont Bulldogs team, captured their third straight Volleyball B.C. title Sunday in Abbotsford. This time it came in the 16-under division, with three straight championship round sweeps. The last match win, over a Surrey-based team known as Academy Black, saw the Chargers reel off 25-18 and 27-25 wins and shock the developers of a program designed to groom top players for greater glory, said Chargers co-coach Mike Toakley.
“These kids have worked really hard and overcome great odds to continue to be at the top of the heap,” he said.
Of the academy programs, he added, “Their expectation is that they’re not only going to win at this level, but to have opportunities to play post-secondary volleyball.” The players, whose families pay thousands to enrol them in the program, he said, “are extremely talented and extremely motivated – and uniformly six feet tall.”
Having won the last two Volleyball B.C. age group championships, even before the formation of the elite academies in Surrey and at UBC, the Chargers had a target on their backs. They suffered one match loss in Saturday’s round robin play, to Abbotsford’s Dig Dynasty, and finished second. But they got on a roll early Sunday by beating the Academy’s Gold team 2-0 (25-20, 25-17).
Playing solid system play and consistently executing strategies they worked on in practise and previous tournaments, they were a force. Toakley said he and co-coach Ron Mutch looked at each other afterward and agreed that the Chargers had a chance to win it all if they continued such play.
“Emotionally that was an important match, because it showed them that they had what it takes to overcome this level of opponent,” Toakley said.
A 2-0 (25-17, 25-23) win over longtime nemesis Ducks HP from Coquitlam in the semifinals set up the final showdown between the two black-shirted rivals.
With her teammates playing near-perfect serve-receive ball, setter Taylee Pomponio continued to show great poise and composure to give her team’s hitters near-perfect balls to work with.
And with power hitter and eventual tournament MVP Savannah Purdy and fellow front court players picking apart the Academy defence, the Chargers stunned their opponents by opening up a 16-6 lead in the first set.
Game 2 was closer as the mainland squad adjusted, but the Chargers didn’t flinch and didn’t let Academy sustain any momentum.
“We’ve been playing together, the majority of us, for so long now that we all work well together,” Purdy said. “We practised really hard this year knowing what we were up against … I think we got better as the day went along.”
She gave great kudos to the Chargers coaches, who have guided this group along for the past five years or so.
Toakley put the three-peat into perspective. “The whole idea that they did it three times is really spectacular,” he said. While school play is whatever an individual school can throw at you, he said club volleyball is such a high level. “Here you’re talking about kids representing dozens of schools potentially, even more so this year than ever before, you’re not just looking at two or three.”