Playing in their new gym for the North Central zone double-A girls championship and a shot at provincials, the Shas Ti Kelly Road Grizzlies got the quick start they were looking for Saturday against the top-ranked D.P. Todd Trojans.
Corina McClure touched off an eight-point run with a serving ace and by the time their opponents got a side-out the Grizzlies were halfway to winning the first set in the best-of-five match, which they did decisively.
The Trojans had their own ace in the hole in the second set. Right-side hitter Londyn Shawara had her serving arm dialed in, working in perfect sync with the Trojans’ front line of defence led by power hitter Shadae Black, whose killer instinct was merciless. She landed four consecutive spikes and made a block that spun off the net onto the Grizzlies side of the court. One more ace from Shawara completed a nine-point run for a 23-15 lead and an eventual set win for the Trojans.
The Trojans and Grizzlies have gone back and forth all season trading match victories and the next two sets reflected it. D.P. Todd won the third set 25-23, and the Grizzlies hung with them for much of the fourth game but they couldn’t keep pace with smackdown antics of Black and Reanna Marshall, who pounded down point after point. Marshall’s jump serve put the Grizzlies’ defence off balance and her seven-point run gave the Trojans a 13-8 lead. The Griz made a late push but eventually fell 25-21.
It all added up to 3-1 (19-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-21) victory for D.P. Todd – the first-ever zone championship for Black, a six-foot left-side hitter, selected as the tournament MVP.
“It feels amazing, our team has worked so hard for this all season and I can’t believe we pulled it off, I’m so excited to go down there,” said Black. “I think it was our energy in this one, we really played for each other and we knew that this was out last time and it was in Kelly Road’s home gym so we had to give it our all. Our (fan) support really helped us, the cheering was great.”
Trojans head coach Brian Bird has seen Black develop as a leader of the senior squad, starting last season when she made the jump from the junior team, and she gave those Trojan fans something to remember in her last high school tournament in Prince George. Unfortunately, like the rest of her senior teammates, she didn’t get a chance to perform under pressure during the pandemic-cancelled 2020 season.
“She stood out all season, and she was such a good captain,” said Bird. “Her demeanor on the court and how she caried herself when things got tough, she helped get the players back up. When they needed a side-out she stepped up said, ’Don’t worry about it, I’ll carry you on this’. She was such a good teammate for everybody that was out there and it was a pleasure to have her on my team this year.”
Grizzlies power hitter Corina McClure was hoping for better with the home court advantage and she joined her teary-eyed teammates in one last huddle as they awaited the medal presentations.
“We all put out heart and soul into it but we came up a tad short, but it was a helluva fight and I was happy to be part of this team this year,” said McClure, one of five Grade 12s on the team. “We felt comfortable in our home gym and we had support from our school. (The Trojans) definitely have a lot of good players and their defence is good and they have really good hitting as well.”
Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford has been picked to host the 16-team double-A girls provincial championship, Dec. 2-4, but that tournament might not go ahead as planned to due to the highway closures in the wake of last week’s disastrous rainstorm that hit southwestern B.C.
The Grizzlies were the defending zone champions, dating back to 2019 when they were known as the Kelly Road Runners. Grizzlies head coach Jason Olexyn was proud of his troops and the resistance they put up vying for the lone provincial berth. They were much improved over their Friday loss to the Trojans in two straight sets.
“They fought really hard, unfortunately they were beat by another great team and we’ve had a battle with them all season,” said Olexyn. “Unfortunately it wasn’t our turn this time and they stepped up when it mattered.”
A contingency plan is being discussed by B.C. Secondary School Sports to bring together the top teams in the North, Kootenays and Okanagan and split the province in half with two provincial tournaments. Right now, Highway 3 and Highway 99 are open only to essential travel the Trans-Canada and Coquihalla highways remain closed. Bird says it’s not fair to penalize teams that can’t afford to fly to Vancouver to take part in the MEI tournament and he's in favour of the split provincial championships is road access to Abbotsford remains cut off.
The BCSSS decision will be announced on Wednesday.
Marshall and Trojans setter Jasmine Dhillon were selected tournament all-stars, as were Grizzlies Carly Gurney and Breanne Day and Charlee McIntyre of the Nechako Valley Vikings.
The Trojans will have starting middle blocker Emma Watson back with them at the provincial tournament. Watson missed the zone tournament while she was attending a Team BC camp for ringette. The other members of the team are: Hayden Berdard, Chayse Shawara, Courtney Allen. Emma Cain, Tearney Readman, Alivai Eliason and Sara Leroux. Dallyn Long and Rachel Young are the Trojans’ assistant coaches.