WESTLOCK — The R.F. Staples Thunderbirds senior boys’ volleyball team earned a bronze medal at their home tournament Sept. 22-23, defeating a team from Camrose in a hard-fought three sets.
The tournament featured 10 boys’ teams and nine girls’ teams, with matches split between the two gymnasiums at R.F. Staples School and the Westlock Rotary Spirit Centre.
“This was a good weekend. We had lots of teams, and the kids enjoyed the tournament,” said T-Birds coach Aaron Graf. “We set some goals, and we met a couple of them. We’ll keep pushing to meet the rest of them.”
The R.F. boys finished fourth in their pool of five after the round robin, scoring wins against PCHS Edson in two sets (25-14, 25-15) and OLMP Camrose in three sets (20-25, 25-15 and 15-8).
They lost their matches against Holy Rosary from Lloydminster in two sets (14-25, 16-25) and St. Albert Catholic High School in two (23-25, 19-25).
They went on to defeat Roland Michener Secondary School from Slave Lake in the first playoff round before being matched against the St. Mary boys in the quarter final.
While the first match saw the R.F. boys notch a straightforward victory, the second set turned out to be a 27-25 barnburner with both teams struggling to take the lead at the very end.
“It’s very awesome to see St. Mary’s and Westlock fill an entire gym and have a competitive game,” said Graf, adding that match could have gone either way.
In the semi-final, the R.F. boys went up against St. Albert, who had defeated them in the round robin, with Westlock falling in two sets (25-27 and 15-25).
That just left the bronze medal match with OLMP Camrose, which went to three sets. Despite a last-minute rally from their opponents, the T-Birds won the third set 15-9.
This was the boys’ third tournament of the year, as they started out with a roughly middle-place finish at the University of Alberta tournament on Sept. 8-9.
They also played a tournament in Spruce Grove where they lost in the consolation final against Barrhead Composite High School.
The T-Birds senior girls had a very similar trajectory at this weekend’s tournament, ultimately ending up in the bronze medal match.
The girls did a little better than the boys in the round robin, earning third place in their pool of five. They won in two straight against Edson (25-15, 25-20) and against St. Albert in three (15-25, 25-23, 15-10), but fell in three sets each to OLMP from Camrose (19-25, 25-22, 14-16) and Holy Rosary Lloydminster (17-25, 25-22, 15-17).
With a bye into the quarter-finals, the R.F. girls downed Barrhead Composite High School before moving on to face Lloydminster in the semi-finals.
Sadly, said coach Leanne Huppertz, their second game with Holy Rosary wasn’t as close, and they were downed in two straight sets.
That put Westlock up against St. Albert in the bronze medal match. Despite beating them in the round robin, this time Westlock’s opponents were able to eke out a win in three sets.
Huppertz pointed out how competitive their side of the tournament was, as all four teams in their pool ended up in the semi-finals. Even so, the R.F. girls never had a lopsided loss all weekend.
“A lot of our matches went to three sets,” she said.
The Westlock tournament was not the R.F. girls’ first action of the year, as they placed seventh out of 32 teams at a season-opener tournament hosted by the University of Albert on Sept. 8-9.
The girls placed first in their pool against St. Alberta Catholic, Jasper Place and Strathmore, then went on to division one.
She said this was the first time she can recall the R.F. girls ranking higher than Tier 3 or 4.
“We are coming along. We have high hopes for this year,” Huppertz said.