This year's College Heights Cougars senior girls volleyball team is loaded with veteran talent. The Cougars have eight Grade 12 players on their roster, and all that experience helped them claim a tournament title last weekend in Kamloops.
The Cougars won the 31-team WolfPack Invitational at Thompson Rivers University. In the championship final, they met up with another Prince George squad, the PGSS Polars, and prevailed in three tough sets. Scores were 25-23, 23-25, 16-14.
Offensively, College Heights was fueled by outside hitter Emily MacDonald, middle blocker Rachel Kidd (who normally lines up at power hitter but moved to the middle for the tournament) and Reeyse Desmarais. Setter Brooke Eberherr, meanwhile, did a great job of distributing the ball. All four players are Grade 12s, as are fellow team members Natasha Kozlowski, Ashlee Hick, Alysha Madsen and Sydney Bazinet.
"This is what you build for," said Cougars head coach Jason Olexyn. "Five of them were Grade 10s two years ago and played on the senior team and this is what you work towards - their Grade 12 year, hoping that they come around and it looks like they've stepped into their own."
In the preseason provincial rankings, the Cougars were listed at No. 4 in the double-A division. But, based on the number of girls in Grade 12 at College Heights, the team had to move to the triple-A level.
The Polars began the year at No. 8 in triple-A and another north central club, the Dawson Creek Coyotes, started out at No. 4 in triple-A. The Duchess Park Condors are another skilled triple-A team so qualifying for provincials out of the north will be difficult. Two berths will likely be available, with the provincial gathering set for Powell River.
Olexyn said the Polars played at a high level in the TRU final, especially on defence.
"PGSS was digging up everything we were throwing at them," Olexyn said. "They were playing outstanding defence. It was really tight at the end but we pulled it off."
Allan Tong, coach of the much younger Polars, also pointed to the PGSS defence as a defining characteristic of the championship match.
"Our girls played really well - defensively they picked up a lot of balls," he said. "Our serving was pretty tough and I think overall the girls felt that they could compete against College Heights.
"It could have been either team's win. It just depended on who was limiting their errors. I think our inexperience showed a little bit."
While the Cougars have all those Grade 12s, the Polars have just one - setter Cassidy Malgunas.
Tong said College Heights showed plenty of confidence on the court. Early in the third set of the final, the Polars were ahead 5-1 but the Cougars took a timeout and then stormed back with five consecutive points.
Both teams will attend a tournament at Kelly Road this weekend and will head to Kelowna on Thanksgiving weekend for a major event at UBC Okanagan.
Last weekend, the College Heights senior boys volleyball team swept the D.P. Todd Trojans in the final of a D.P. Todd tournament. The Cougars also won the season-opening Kodiak Classic. In that one, they also topped the Trojans in the championship match.
The Cougars are hosting the Jon Bragg Memorial Invitational this weekend.
Also this weekend, the PGYVC Junior Kodiak Classic will be on the floor at the College of New Caledonia, Duchess Park and PGSS. Matches start Friday at 4 p.m. and the championship finals are scheduled for 6:20 p.m. on Saturday at CNC (junior A boys and junior A girls) and Duchess Park (junior B girls).