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Thunderbirds gear up to host 3A provincials

Eighteen boys and girls clubs to converge on Westlock starting Thursday
WES - RF Senior girls copy
The R.F. Staples Thunderbirds senior girls volleyball team is ready to take on teams from across the province at the 2021 ASAA 3A Boys and Girls Volleyball Provincial Championship. L-R: Kaedyn Biro, Ashlee Prymak, Heidi Huppertz, Tianna Kohlsmith, Payton McNelly, Peytyn Mitchell, Phaedra Bruens, Jordyn Morgan, Alexa Bernard, Vicki Brett, Olivia Carlson, Paige Snyder and Rebecca Felske.

WESTLOCK – For the first time in over a decade, Westlock will play host to the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association (ASAA) 3A Boys and Girls Volleyball Provincial championship starting this week.

The tournament, utilizing both the Rotary Spirit Centre and R.F. Staples School’s gymnasiums will run Nov. 25-27. Games kick off Thursday with the round robin spanning into the following day. Saturday will see playoff and championship games starting at 9 a.m. with gold medals handed out at 7 p.m. that night.

Things will look a little different this year from a normal provincial tournament thanks to the pandemic. To comply with COVID-19 and ASAA restrictions, no spectators will be permitted other than those who pre-registered with their teams and a reduced number of teams will be participating.

Ready to soar

WES - Seniorhighboys
With an impressive 28-5 record the senior boys are aiming for at least Top 6 in the 2021 provincial championship. L-R: Jon Belanger, Sean Kaliel, Noah Michalczuk, Thomas Oolske, Lane Ramey, Tim Comeau Hnatiw, Gavin Lucyk, Noah Rigney, Rysten Tomlinson, Dylan Macintyre and Kale Meinczinger.

After travelling across Alberta to compete in tournaments throughout the fall, the T-Birds are ready to compete for a title.

“We’ve definitely been improving,” said girls coach Leanne Huppertz, reflecting on the season. “Each tournament we seem to do a little bit better and become a little bit more aware and cohesive as a team.”

Playing host to 18 teams from across the province has inspired the T-Birds to rise to the top. Despite having to take a year off due to COVID-19 restriction provincewide, members of both teams were still able to hone their skills by participating in volleyball clubs in Edmonton.

“We are getting more competitive as we go,” added boys coach Kyle Beattie. “It’s been a pretty solid year.”

The boys, sporting an impressive 28-5 record, have been improving their passing, setting and control over the court while the girls have focused on improving their defensive coverage and maintaining leads in games.

The girls entered the Nov. 18 zones as the second-place team after taking down their Morinville rivals, which Huppertz says is a testament to the improvement they have shown since the start of the season.

“They were eager and had a lot of passion and drive to get back on the court. We were a bit rusty because we hadn’t played in a while but their enthusiasm and excitement to play was paramount,” she said.

Meanwhile the boys, with their solid win-loss record, started the season off strong and have continued to build, only losing to “really strong teams” according to Beattie.

With provincials in their back yard and an opportunity to show the province what they’re made of, both aiming for the podium.

“Sometimes the host team is just happy to be there, but I feel like these guys are quite strong and we are a Top 6 team,” said Beattie. “But we could take a Top 3 or Top 2 spot as well.”

“We think we are good contenders for provincials, and we should be able to hold our own there. We’re looking forward to it and the girls are excited,” Huppertz concluded.

Organizing the event

While originally slated to host the tournament in 2020, R.F. Staples is well-prepared to play host this coming weekend.

Tasked with hosting 18 teams, which is down from the regular 22 in an effort to minimize contact due to COVID-19, Kendall Ducharme and Wade Hicks stepped up to the plate to tackle the titanic task of running the show.

“With restrictions we definitely have a few less things we could do,” Ducharme explained. “We couldn’t host a banquet or opening ceremonies but there was the extra work of making sure everything follows health precautions.”

The tournament will run as close to normal as possible; however some things will be different including team counts and spectators. Time between matches will be used to disinfect contact areas on the courts between matches.

Due to gathering restrictions there will be no public spectators permitted. Each team was permitted to sign up 40 named spectators prior to the tournament. Spectators will be required to show proof of vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test.

“I think they're excited to be able to test themselves against teams across the province,” said Ducharme.

Spencer Kemp-Boulet,

Spencer Kemp-Boulet

About the Author: Spencer Kemp-Boulet

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