In their last hurrah playing for provincial club volleyball bragging rights, the Prince George Kodiaks 17/18U boys were untouchable.
Competing for the B.C. crown in the oldest age group at the 12-team Tier 1 provincial championship last weekend in Richmond, the Kodiaks went undefeated in seven matches. They did not lose a set.
The Kodiaks wrapped up the title Saturday, sweeping the defending-champion Seaside Six Pack of Surrey 25-22-25-19 in the gold medal match.
"I wasn't really paying attention to how we were winning it, it just seemed to keep rolling," said Kodiaks head coach Hans Minck. "This is the pinnacle of high school volleyball at the club level because after this everybody goes off to college and joins other teams and ends up all over the place. But as a group of kids who grew up in high school and played in high school and kind of made the all-star team, this provincial (title) is the pinnacle of all that."
Prince George advanced to the final with a 25-21, 25-20 semifinal victory over Fraser Valley Black of Langley. That came after consecutive playoff wins over Victoria Red (25-18, 25-14) and in the quarterfinals, Air Attack Gold of Richmond (25-18, 25-21).
"We served great, we passed well, really we did nothing wrong, it was hard to believe actually," said Minck.
The Kodiaks started the tournament in the B Pool and they cruised to three match wins. Pre-tournament seedings were based on results earlier in the season in Super Series tournaments in Kelowna and Langley. The shortstaffed Kodiaks finished fifth in Kelowna Feb. 24 and were bronze medalists in Langley April 7. Due to travel logistics they didn't go to the Super Series tournament in Victoria, which dropped their provincial points ranking to fifth.
"We didn't get into the power pool of four and we were in the second pool and the top-ranked team, which in some ways benefitted us because the four top teams beat the hell out of each other in the round-robin," said Minck, who split the coaching duties with Prince George Youth Volleyball Club president Dan Drezet.
"We skated through our round-robin without any problem and played our bench a lot and kids that don't normally play a lot did play a lot. The downside of that is the top four go to the quarterfinals and we had to play a crossover game (against Victoria) to get to the quarterfinals. We really got a warmup game in the morning and got to the quarterfinals against a (Air Attack) team that got to the gym cold. We started rolling and kind of put the boots to everybody we played."
The core of the team has played together four of five years but none of them had ever won a provincial club title.
"We've tried, at U15 we finished with the silver medal at provincials, at U16 we finished bronze and at U17 they lost a game they shouldn't have and finished fifth," said Minck. "To make it all happen last weekend is kind of surreal. I really knew going in we were going to be very competitive when it started."
Kodiak power hitters Nolan Minck and Matt Shand, the provincial tournament MVP, both attend College Heights secondary school and both are committed to Douglas College in Victoria for next season. Middle blockers Kyle McKee (Duchess Park) and Cole Johnston (D.P. Todd) have been recruited to Thompson River University, while middle Dayton O'Neill (College Heights) is close to an agreement with Camosun College.
Ryan Hampe (Duchess Park) played in U Sports this past season for Thompson Rivers and his December birthday meant he could still play club volleyball with the Kodiaks. He didn't practice with the team but played in the tournaments.
Kodiaks setter Zach Ohori (College Heights) turned in a stellar performance at the provincial tournament but coach Minck said his five-foot-five stature hurts his chances of attracting a post-secondary athletic scholarship.
"He was the best setter by far in the province and we're actively trying to get him recruited as a libero because he's a good passer," said Minck.
Minck laments the fact there is no university volleyball program at UNBC. The city's high school rank steadily produce players ready to make the step to the college and university level but they are forced to leave Prince George to continue their volleyball careers.
"We pump out a lot of good athletes," Minck said.
The Kodiaks roster also includes middle blocker Rafael Rodrigues (College Heights), power hitter Logan Hladchuck (PGSS), libero/right-side hitter Matthew Graham (D.P. Todd) and libero Colby Graham (D.P. Todd). Graham is one of Canada's top young snowboard cross racers and captured the silver medal at the Canada Winter Games in March in Red Deer.
Of the 11 Kodiak players, all are in the 18U age category except Matthew Graham (D.P. Todd), who still has one year of club eligibility left.
The Kodiaks are entered in the national club championship in Toronto, May 7-12.
Two other PGYVC teams played at provincial in Richmond. The Kodiak Black 18U team coached by Linden Smith and Jacob Tiani finished with a 1-4 record. In the 18U girls Tier 1 division, the Kodiaks Red team coached by Allan Tong and Roland Rempel ended up 0-6.