Last time I updated my blog we were heading into conference championships at home. It was a really exciting time as it was the start of 6 do-or-die matches that we were hoping to play. It was great experience to play conference champs at home. Our gym is kind of small with stands only being on one side, but we packed it to capacity every game seating between 500-600 people. The atmosphere was incredible. The championships began on the Thursday night before the tournament at the awards banquet. We cleaned up a few awards; Braden (our right side) was named a second team all-star, Tim (left side and co-captain) and I were named first team all-stars. Tim also was named ACAC player of the year and our coach was named coach of the year. This showed the success we had as a group, and it was time to relay that success into playoffs.
In our quarter final match we came up against 8th seed Briercrest, a team that had underperformed all year and had pushed us in our two previous encounters with them. Briercrest are hosting nationals so they automatically qualify and didn’t need to win conference champs, like everyone else. Briercrest pushed us again in a high level quarter final that saw us win in 4 sets. Our athletic director said at the time that it was the best 1 v 8 match he had seen. We met Augustana in our semifinal match. We had some good tactics on block and defense and were able to comfortably take the semifinal in 3 straight sets. Our last match came against Grant Macewan the only team to beat us during the year and a team that will be going CIS next year. Our game plan was quite simple out pass them, out serve them and out work them. The first two sets were strong side out battles until we got a 3 or 4 point lead just after 20 in both sets. The third set was the strangest set of volleyball I have ever played. We knew that the most dangerous team is one with their backs against the wall. So we were a bit surprised when we jumped to an 11-6 lead. But sure enough Macewan came back and we were only up 13-12. The next patch of 10 or so points was incredible. Macewan was highly emotional due to factors as facing elimination, the crowd against them and a couple of calls against them as well; this lead to two red cards and their coach being put in the penalty box. We were once again up 3 or 4 points at 20, but this time Macewan fought back. We held strong though and on our second attempt we won the ACAC championship 26-24. It was a great feeling to go back-to-back but at the back of our minds we knew we still had one more job to do. I was named MVP of the tournament which I was happy to accept but not what I was here for.
We departed for nationals 9 days later. Hopping on the bus at 11am and arriving at Moose Jaw Saskatchewan at 8pm that night. We had a practice the next day as well as an interview with the press. The facility was pretty cool seating 1600 people with stands surrounding the court it looked pretty sweet. That night we had the awards banquet Tim was recognized for his All-Canadian as well as a fellow GMVA athlete Curtis Stockton. Our coach was then announced as the coach of the year, a well-deserved award for the endless hours he has spent planning and coaching. The next day was competition day we came up against the Quebec champions in the quarter final. We finished them off comfortably in 3 sets and were able to get rid of our nerves, get our game going, get used to the atmosphere and the court. The next night we came up against CBC who had been the top team in BC for most of the year. We started nervous and they were playing hard, and passing really well. CBC took the set after a terrible late call from the head referee. During the break of sets we seemed a little shocked and a little nervous because this was not how it was supposed to go. Our coaches though kept calm and told us to “trust the process” meaning we just need to control what we can and the result will go our way. So we went out with that in mind and we still found ourselves in trouble at 17-19 down, but we trusted what we can do will eventually come out on top, and it did. We went on a 6 point run and didn’t look back for the rest of the match, taking the semifinal 3-1. We hardly enjoyed that win because before we even had got off the court we were thinking about our next game. The message from a lot of the older guys was “1 more”. All what we had done was qualify for a chance of redeeming ourselves for last year’s loss. We stayed to watch the other semifinal and found out our opponent will be a familiar foe Briercrest who had rode the incredible home crowd all the way to the final.
My sleep was restless that night having multiple dreams about the final. I woke up with only one thing on my mind. Our game was at 8pm at night so we had the whole day to kill before the final. We kept routine though going for a light workout in the morning, our pre game meal 3-4 hours before the game, and our pre game meeting 45 mins before the game. By the time we hit the court for the start of warm up there was hardly a space in the crowd and plenty more people were still streaming in all dressed in Briercrest’s colour yellow. Then for the whole warm up the crowd was on their feet clapping their thunder sticks to the beat of whatever song was currently playing. After warm up we walked onto the court waiting to be introduced and the crowd erupted, it was hard not to take in the atmosphere 1600+ people all standing making as much noise as possible. People had drums, thunder sticks, blow horns, cow bells, a group had painted their bodies, a couple had a fry pan and a ladle and I think one person had a trumpet. This resulted in us waiting another 10 or so minutes because the announcer had to wait for the crowd to quieten so he could be heard. The game started and the crowd continued there noise. They had a tactic to make as much noise as possible when we serve. It was so loud when I first went back to serve that I didn’t hear the referee’s whistle.
Once again our game tactic was to play our game and to win the first contact battle. We were able to do this well in the first set and took the game 25-20. This took the energy out of the crowd and we could now hear the referee’s whistle. During the second set we continued our fighting efforts playing great defense that resulted in us taking a 10-2 lead. Briercrest fought back to 18-15 but we again pulled away and took the set 25-19. During the second set the announcer announced that Red Deer’s Woman’s volleyball team had just taken the national championship. This would mean is we took the last set we would create CCAA history as being the first program ever to win both men’s and woman’s nationals in the same sport in the same year. The third set was really hard to deal with mentally. As a lot of us said afterwards that we knew we were going to win when we went 10-2 up in the second. It was hard to stay focus on each point and try to not think about celebrating to early. Our approach was to take it 5 points at a time, be the first team to 5 then the first to 10 and so on. Once we got up 20-17 though we could no longer think about 5 points ahead, so we focused on winning 1 point at a time. We won the third set and the match from a missed serve and took the set 25-18. I couldn’t have asked to win a better way, we were ranked number 1 in the country the whole year, we went 23-1 for the year, we won 70 sets and only lost 10, we beat a crowd of 1600+ which included some other teams in the tournament that were cheering for Briercrest and we played our best match of the year in the national final. It was great to win with this group because it was such a long road back after last year’s loss, but we did it and in a very commanding style. Afterwards we were presented with champion hats, t-shirts, medals, a trophy and a banner. They also awarded the tournament all-stars; Tim, Osborn (our middle) and I were named first team all stars, and our right side Braden was named tournament MVP.
The celebration afterwards was great we had a team meal with all the coaches and parents as well as the athletic director. It was really good to hang out with the coaches and parents in a social environment, which is really rare. The celebrations continued during the next week as well. We have been treated to dinner’s in our honor, box seats at hockey game, being paraded out on the ice and a party hosted by the college. The college has been buzzing about athletics as our basketball team narrowly lost in the national final and our woman’s curling team just won nationals as well.
It has just started to sink in that we won, 2 weeks after. I will always remember my time at RDC I have created some great memories and made some friends that I will stay friends with forever. My focus has now though has moved onto getting my body into the best possible physical shape, which includes getting rid of any niggling injuries, increasing my strength, speed and jump. I am looking forward for the challenges that lay ahead. Going to the CIS will be a great opportunity to improve my game and test myself against bigger more physical players. I’ll be returning home in April so I will see you all then, until then stay safe.