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RFS T-Birds have their sights set on zone titles

Senior boys hosting 3A championships Nov. 18-19; girls head to Morinville as the top-ranked team
R.F. Staples School’s senior girls volleyball team have had an incredible year winning a pair of tournament titles to go along with three second-place finishes. Pictured Oct. 29 with their Louis St. Laurent Catholic Junior/High School SMASH tournament hardware are, back row, L-R: coach Denise Boulerice, Harvalee Tomlinson, Kourtnie Menzies, Allie Huppertz, Jenna Snyder, Hailey Keith, Tianna Kohlsmith and coach Leanne Huppertz. Front row, L-R: Vicki Brett, Jordyn Morgan, Zoe Petryshen, Phaedra Bruens, Kiera MacIntyre, Drew Yeomans, while missing is Kaedyn Biro. At the far left front (in the T-Birds T-shirt) and back (holding the sign) are the LSL student hosts.

WESTLOCK – Although they’ve posted decidedly different results during tournament play in 2022, the goal of R.F. Staples School’s (RFS) senior volleyball teams is identical — to play for a provincial title at the end of this month.

This coming weekend, Nov. 18-19, at their respective 3A North Central Zone tournaments, both the senior boys and girls will look to punch their ticket to the Alberta Schools’ Athletics Association 3A Volleyball Championships Nov. 24-26 at Winston Churchill High School in Lethbridge — last fall Westlock hosted the 3A provincials, although both teams fell short of the playoffs.

While the boys will be in the friendly confines of RFS as they’re hosting the seven-team zone tournament Friday and Saturday, the girls travel south to Morinville to face the Top 6 teams in the zone. Of note, the Top 2 teams at the boys tourney get a berth to provincials, while only the zone champion on the girls side will advance.

The female T-Birds have had a sensational season and are coming off back-to-back tournament victories at Louis St. Laurent Catholic Junior/High School in Edmonton Oct. 28-29 and Camrose Nov. 4-5. Throw in three, second-place tournament finishes, including a silver medal at their home tournament back in September, and it’s apparent why the girls are the top-ranked team heading into zones.

Coach Leanne Huppertz has yet to see the draw, but expects they’ll be in a three-team pool — the zone includes Morinville, Barrhead, Athabasca, Whitecourt, Drayton Valley and Edson. During tournament play this year they’ve seen and beaten every team in the zone, although they haven’t played Barrhead.

“We’re on a roll for sure and we’re confident in our ranking. We’ve got the four-day long weekend off to rest so we’ll be ready to go for the 18th,” said Huppertz, who’s in her fifth year coaching the senior girls. “We’re all looking forward to it for sure.”

Throughout the season Huppertz has witnessed her club, which counts five Grade 12s, continue to gel, improve and gain in confidence, especially over the final two events that ended with gold medals.

“This past weekend they were more confident not only in themselves but with their teammates. And they’ve been playing incredible defence — I couldn’t believe some of the stuff that they dug up this past weekend. It’s been exciting to watch,” she added.

Boys show steady improvement

And while the senior boys haven’t picked up any significant hardware this year, first-year head coach Aaron Graf has also seen his club grow by leaps and bounds.

Graf said their goal this weekend remains the same as the start of the year; earn a berth to provincials. Aside from three Grade 12s, the remainder of the team is comprised of Grade 10s getting their first taste of high school volleyball.

“We’ve been playing extremely well against the best teams and giving ourselves a chance. Our goal at the start of the season was to qualify for provincials, so with the two berths available at zones, we want to be in the final,” said Graf. “If they play for each other as a team, I think they can make the final for sure.”

Versus their zone competitors over the year the boys fell in three sets to Barrhead but have swept Morinville three times — Graf figures the Top 4 teams in the zone are Barrhead, Athabasca, Westlock and Morinville. The T-Birds will be in the same pool as Athabasca, Whitecourt and Parkland, the first team they’ll face in the main gym on Friday at 2 p.m.

“The boys have had a good season and have been learning a ton and as a coach that’s all you can ask for. There’s been lot of progress from the boys individually and I think when they play as a team, they can beat anybody,” he concluded.

George Blais,