Young Cougars show their power

So much for early-season jitters.

The College Heights Cougars showed why they're the sixth-ranked double-A senior boys volleyball team in the province Saturday.

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The squad, which a year ago won the north central zone title and finished fifth at the B.C. high school provincial championships as a group of juniors, captured the Duchess Park Senior Boys Invitational with a straight-set best-of-five victory against the D.P. Todd Trojans.

D.P. Todd led by as many as seven points in the first set, but the Cougars got their offence going and rallied to win it 27-25. They won the next two sets with identical scores of 25-19 and 25-19.

Duchess Park's senior squad defeated its junior team to finish third. PGSS placed fifth, while Kelly Road was sixth.

Saturday's tournament title was the first of the season for the Cougars. They skipped the Kodiak Classic on Sept. 18-19 in Prince George and chose to go to Calgary instead, where they finished seventh out of 16 teams at the University of Calgary Dinos tournament.

The Trojans, who received an honourable mention in the rankings last week, won the Kodiak Classic after they beat Duchess Park in the final.

"This was a really good start to the season, they really came out firing at us," said College Heights Grade 11 setter Graham Walkey. "The key is that most of the starting line, six of us, were on Team B.C. (last summer). That's really increased our level of play."

The Cougars are a young squad, comprised mostly of Grade 11 athletes. Walkey is part of a starting six that includes power hitters Ben Shand and Nigel Thompson, middles Jonah Gilbert and Nathan Provan, and libero Nick Hansen. They made the B.C. 16-and-under squad in the summer and went on to finish fourth at the National Team Challenge Cup in Edmonton.

Coached by Jay Guillet and Linden Smith, they've been together since Grade 8.

"We really picked it up over the summer and we're really passionate about the game," said Walkey. "We really want to go to provincials and improve our ranking."

Even though they lost the final, the Trojans were still happy with the result.

"It's still really early in the season and the boys played well," said head coach Jonathan Lawrence, who's in his first season coaching the team. "This was a good learning experience for us since we didn't get to see them (the Cougars) last week. They just didn't make many misses. I really liked what I saw. It was good volleyball. The first two sets we played really well and in the third you could tell they (the Trojans) were getting tired."

The Trojans are a mostly senior squad this season, with a majority of Grade 12 players and only two Grade 11s.

They're led by senior setter Ryan Gaiesky and right-side hitter Kieran Leboe. Gaiesky also has left-side hitters Joel Ingham and Brandon Chow at his disposal and Luke Brbot, a Grade 11 hitter who can take his swings from either the left or right side. Malcolm Lambert is a Grade 11 defensive specialist who plays libero.

"Ryan is just a workhorse and is a great leader," said Lawrence, who expects the squad to qualify for the double-A high school provincial championship. "Kieran just hammers the ball. Joel and Brandon are really consistent and not flashy and play great defence. Malcolm doesn't let the ball hit the floor."

They may be cross-town rivals during the high school season, but both the Trojans and Cougars play club ball together as part of the Prince George Youth Volleyball Club.

"It's a good rivalry but it's friendly," said Lawrence. "There's no bad blood. They just play good, solid volleyball and there's no animosity and it's really cool to see."

Both the Trojans and Cougars are competing in the Jon Bragg Memorial tournament this weekend at College Heights. After taking a break at Thanksgiving, they'll both travel to the Best of the West in Kelowna, Oct. 16-17.

D.P. Todd will host the double-A zone championship on Nov. 20-21.

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