The Belmont senior girls’ volleyball team had high expectations heading into the 2016 season. With a young squad made up of Grade 11 students, it was always just a question as to how quickly they could adjust to the senior level.
So far, so good.
The Bulldogs have spiked, served and dug their way to the top AAAA ranking in the province following a pair of tournament victories, while besting North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals, the pre-season ranking favourites, on back-to-back weekends.
The ’Dogs are a perfect 12-0 in tournament play, which included a win at the prestigious UBC Invitational last weekend. While they’ve been tested by several schools in addition to Handsworth, they’ve managed to come out on top in each contest.
At UBC the Bulldogs beat Mount Doug in a close semifinal before winning in a comfortable two sets over Handsworth. That was in stark contrast to the previous week’s matchup with the Royals, which went to three sets and required a big comeback from the Belmont side.
Head coach Mike Toakley says his team showed rapid improvement during the weekend at UBC.
“The girls got better and better as the tournament went along,” he said.
The final started out as a close battle, but the ’Dogs took over in the latter stages of the first set and didn’t let up. “Once we got momentum, we kind of rolled over them,” Toakley said.
Part of that rapid improvement, he explained, is the team simply getting comfortable playing at the senior level, especially against a highly-regarded team like Handsworth.
“Handsworth is the defending provincial champion … for us to be playing them as a first-year senior high team in our first tournament, that was a big deal. But once we did beat them, I think that helped us mentally to have less nerves going into this final match at UBC.”
Belmont’s work on both ends of the service game remains a strength. The team is versatile enough to be formidable on the attack and when defending, but the chemistry developed between long-time teammates might just be the team’s X-factor.
“Some of us have been playing for five years together and we’re all really good friends,” said Savannah Purdy, who at 6’1” lines up as a power hitter. “If there’s a ball coming in between my libero and I, we know who’s going to get it. We’re really good at communicating on the court.”
Toakley sees that chemistry showing up as well, likening it to a flock of birds who change directions gracefully as a unit.
“Your opponent will do something that catches you a bit by surprise and you have to respond as a group … if anybody responds and they’re out of sync, then you’ve got a big hole somewhere and the ball always finds the hole,” he explained.
Toakley had coached many of the girls in club volleyball prior to them graduating to Belmont’s senior team and Purdy credits her coach with helping the players continually improve.
“He’s been a great coach. We really like his coaching style because he never stops teaching us new things. I feel like I learn something new every practice,” she said.
Despite their early success, the Belmont girls aren’t looking too far ahead, knowing that the road to even make the provincials is a challenging one with several Vancouver Island teams vying for just one of two spots.
“If we can get to the provincials I think we’ll do well, but we have to get there, which means getting off the Island,” Toakley said.
The Bulldogs hosted league matches on Tuesday and will do so again two more times this season, including Oct. 18. The Island zone championships are scheduled for the end of November with the provincials to follow in early December.