College Heights falls short in battle for B.C. bronze

Kelly Road seventh in double-A volleyball championship

 By the time the College Heights Cougars walked out onto the B.C. double-A provincial volleyball court to face the Langley Christian Lightning for the bronze medal Saturday afternoon in Langley they were emotionally spent.
Less than a day earlier they gave all they had and played the match of their lives in a semifinal playoff and came up a couple points short of beating the George Elliot Coyotes, the only team to rank ahead of College Heights throughout season.
The Cougars were gutted by that 17-15 loss to the Coyotes in the fifth and deciding set and could not replicate the level of play that nearly put them into the championship match. They lost the bronze medal in three sets to the Lightning, 25-20, 25-17, 25-23.
“This tournament we played the best volleyball we’ve ever played and it was a ton of fun,” said Cougars setter Zach Ohori, one of five Grade 12s on the team.
“It was quite upsetting going out in the fifth set last night, being so close and ending the game on a kind of iffy call – it threw us off a bit for the next day. It was a tough loss, pretty sad. We’ve been fighting for this since Grade 8, it’s everybody’s dream to win provincials and it was tough getting that out of our heads and it affected us more than we would have liked.”
Sparked by strong net play of Grade 12 veterans Caleb Kastelein and Ethan Visscher and a standout effort from setter Jonas Van Huizen, the Lightning once again denied College Heights a provincial celebration, picking up where they left off two years ago when they defeated the Cougars for gold. Langley was the three-time defending provincial champion.
“I think we were a little too disappointed about (Friday’s match) more than anything,” said Cougars head coach Linden Smith. “We had a tough time getting some traction today, we were too focused on yesterday.
“We definitely weren’t seeing the blocks by the other team as well as we have in the past. Honestly, I don’t think it was anything Langley did, it was mainly us. Everything we did well all year we seemed to struggle with just because we were in our own heads from the start. That (semifinal) was the peak they played all year for and to fall short like that was a tough thing to let go.”
Abbotford Christian, which won a three-set semifinal Friday over Langley Christian, beat George Elliot 3-1 (26-28, 25-23, 25-21, 25-18) in the double-A gold medal match.
Cougars hitter Matt Shand, a provincial under-18 team member, was the offensive star for College Heights and he and Cougars middle blocker Dayton O’Neill attracted interest from several university and college team recruiters watching them play in the four-day tournament.
“When (Shand) has been on, everybody has been on with him,” said Smith. “This weekend was these guys peaking at the right time, it was the whole team working together. It was a very successful season, I’m very proud of the boys.”
For the Cougars’ graduating players – Ohori, Shand, O’Neill, Raphael Rodrigues and Nolan Minck  – Saturday’s game was the last of their high school careers.
“We’re extremely fortunate to even be here,” said Ohori.
“It’s such a great opportunity and a great life experience for the guys. We had an awesome weekend.”
Smith wasn’t coaching College Heights in 2016 but was co-coach of the Cougars with Jay Guillet in 2011 when they won the silver medal after defeating Langley Christian in the semifinals. This year, Hans Minck was Smith’s coaching assistant.
The Kelly Road Roadrunners, the north central zone runners-up, lived up to their No. 7 ranking with a 2-0 (25-23, 25-19) win over Richmond Christian in the seventh-place placement match Saturday.
• At the B.C. double-A girls championship in Burnaby, the Kelly Road Roadrunners won their Saturday morning playoff against Smithers 2-1 (19-25, 25-14, 15-10), then lost a lengthy two-set (35-33, 25-22) battle for 13th place to John Barsby of Nanaimo. Kelly Road placed 14th out of 16 teams.
• At the 20-team single-A girls provincials in Nanaimo, the Fort St. James Falcons lost 2-0 in the 15th/16th-place playoff and ended up 15th. The Cedars Christian Eagles of Prince George placed 19th.

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