Tuesday, May 19th, 2015. For most people, it was an ordinary Tuesday. For BCO 18U Elite, it was a great day to make club history.
It was Finals Tuesday at Calgary 2015 and the 18U National Champion Title was up for grabs. BCO was ranked second to the hometown Dino's coming into the tournament, and finished the first two days of pool play undefeated. The squad was cautiously optimistic, as they were also favourited to finish well at last year's Nationals until the Norwalk virus demolished any golden hopes.
The veteran squad was no stranger to pressure situations: 4 were core players on the AAAA Provincial Champion team for Argyle Secondary, 1 earned a Silver Medal at the Youth Olympics last year, and another 4 were headed directly to the Senior Women's National Team tryouts the next day.
The Quizzical Quarter's: BCO vs Leaside (ON 1)
In many pre-tournament speculations, this was the favourite match-up for the National Finals. Due to some pool play upsets, we met the powerhouse club from Ontario in the quarters, which I should mention were single knockout (i.e. you lose and your season is over). Needless to say, it was a high stakes match against a very talented team. But as they say, to be the best, you have to beat the best (or something like that).
From the first swing in warm-up to the game-winning stuff block (more on that in a second), both sides were fired up. BCO took the first set, but Leaside took the second. In the third set, BCO's calm confidence kicked in and even though it was close, we always had the upper hand. Then at 14-12, Kendra Finch absolutely roofed Leaside's right side hitter for the win. Literally, FTW.
The Scary Semi's: BCO vs Shock (MB 1)
The 2015 18U Elite squad was packed full of the sweetest, most caring kids around which made them a delight to coach. Unfortunately, sometimes their good manners leaked onto the court and as a certain 18U Assistant Coach liked to say, "We sportsed a little too hard for the other team". In the first set of the semi-finals, BCO probably scored 80% of the points; but most of those points went to Shock in the form of unforced errors (missed serves, hits into the net, etc.) and BCO dropped the set.
In the second set, we began to sports for our own team a bit more but soon realized that Shock's defence was REALLY GOOD. It was like they had a back row full of libero's. But wait, didn't 18U Elite just spend the last 3 weeks training with a back roll literally full of libero's? (Thank you Aly McKay, Brooke Halvorsen, and Jayme Bratsberg!!) We had trained for this exact moment, but it didn't mean it was going to be easy.
We soon found ourselves down 14-8 in the must-win second set. Head Coach Dan Huzar called the team's second and final time-out and made a pinnacle, life-changing speech akin to Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday (ok, maybe not quite that good, but it was definitely some of Huzar's best work). This time-out was followed by the TSN Turning Point of the match: outside hitter Anna Price was subbed in and 'put the team on her back'. This superstar came in off the bench, shook it up on the court and took BCO on a 17-5 run. Shock was shocked (pun intended).
By the third set we managed to find our groove and pulled it off 15-9. We were officially off to the National Finals, where the (mostly) Grade 12 squad would play their final high-school volleyball match on the same court Team Canada played in the FIVB World League just days before.
Fun fact: Last time BCO was in the 18U National final's (then coached by club co-founder Mike Rockwell), they lost to Shock's coach, Mike Burchuck. How's that for a little sweet revenge?
The Fabulous Final's: BCO vs Dino's (AB 1)
It's not very often in life that you can say that the next two hours will be magical. But, walking into the Stampede Corral for the 18U Division 1 National Finals, as cliche as it sounds, there was something special in the air. This would be the court where early mornings paid off, every drop of sweat mattered, and dreams came true. Or, this would be the court where the most painful loss of your high school career occurred.
To be honest, my memory of the whole match is a blur with distinct moments of clarity. Looking up and seeing all of our team's parents wildly cheering and BCO 18U Black with hilariously awesome signs. Tessa May demolishing a perfectly set step from Shae Harris. Winning the first set. Pulling ahead in the second set. Dayna Kern absolutely hammering a 51 near the end of the set. Nicole McNamara's superb ambidextrous skills coming in handy for the final point. 12 of the most awesome girls living one of the best moments of their lives. Winning the first ever 18U National Title for BCO. The team huddle to end all team huddles while surrounded by the most supportive parent group. Feeling an 18U National Gold Medal hung around your neck and knowing that every rep, swing, tear, sweat, laugh leading up to this moment was completely worth it.
Turns out knowing the next two hours of your life will be magical doesn't make them any less magical.
Watch the final match here (fast-forward to ~1:20:00)
Thanks to Volleyball Source for the interview with Provincial & National MVP, Team Canada National B Team setter, Shae Harris
Thanks to the North Shore News for the "sick" article
Thanks to Volleyball Stuff and Canuck Stuff for the awesome championship tee's