WESTLOCK - It was an exciting end to the season for the R.F. Staples School’s Thunderbirds who played host to the 2021 ASAA 3A Boys and Girls Volleyball Provincial Championship.
And although both teams fell short of playoffs, the tournament was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the athletes.
Spanning Nov. 25-27, the event saw 20 of the best teams across the province gather in Westlock for a shot at the crown. In the end, it was the Magrath High School boys and St. Peter the Apostle High School girls who stood atop the podium.
The girls placed fifth in their pool out of the round robin while the boys finished fourth, taking a single game off St. Martin de Poirres High School in two swift sets. Unfortunately, it was not enough to reach the playoffs.
“Our team played very well. They played hard and improved in all aspects that we were working on for the year. Our opponents were strong but by no means were any of our game's blowouts. I credit that to the fact that the teams that we played throughout the year were strong,” said girls coach Leanne Huppertz.
“We haven't had a chance to play strong teams like this very often this year, so learning to balance the emotions in tough games when you're facing elimination is what separates teams in the close matches. With a bit more time for players to adjust to injuries and new positions or roles on the team, I think it could have gone differently,” added boys coach Kyle Beattie.
While the failure to make the playoffs was a tough pill to swallow, Beattie believes that their standing could have been improved if the pools were more balanced, noting that Magrath High School and the bronze-winning Barrhead Composite High School teams were in their pool. The boys only narrowly lost against Magrath, losing the first set 25-23, while taking the second 25-21. In the third set, the lost 15-8.
“If we had placed higher in the zone tournament, we would have been in pool ‘B.’ So, we had the opportunity to pave an easier path for ourselves last weekend and we missed it,” Beattie said.
Meanwhile the girls, who finished last in their pool, were thankful for the chance to test their skills against the best teams in the province.
“We would have loved to have been in a medal game, but the girls fought hard and had stiff competition. With only three spots from your pool that went to playoffs each game was critical,” added Huppertz.”
The tournament was planned and prepared by Wade Hicks and Kendall Ducharme who spent countless hours organizing the tournament that took place at two different venues. The teams were split between playing at the R.F. Staples gymnasiums and the Westlock Rotary Spirit Centre.
Hicks and Ducharme, with the help of community donations, helped arrange hotel accommodation for visiting teams while organizing countless student, parent and staff volunteers to make the tournament run smoothly.
“It turned out really well,” said Hicks who noted the COVID-19 restrictions that had to be followed prevented an opening ceremony and banquet. “With all the restrictions and everything, it made it a little bit harder to plan.”