Members of Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS) Jr. boys’ volleyball team began training throughout the summer playing beach volleyball and attending volleyball camps at Madawaska and Camp Celtic. This extra effort paid big dividends when the pressure was on to perform.
With the regular season running September to November, the team practices three times a week. Two of the practices (Wed. & Fri.) start at 7:00 am and the third (Mon.) runs after school until 5:30 pm. Having to get up early two days a week is not easy for some teenage boys, but these boys were committed to the program. The Bluewater Athletic Association (BAA) sets a home and home schedule that resulted in the Royals finishing with a 5-1 record holding the #1 seed in the South division.
To prepare for the regular season and playoffs, the local team participated in four tournaments gaining valuable experience.
The first tournament of the year was at Centennial in Guelph and the Royals lost a close match to the host school in the semi-final. A few weeks later the team traveled to Stratford Central and had a strong showing at the RAMtastic invitational losing in the final. McMaster University was the host of the third tournament and the boys did not have their best outing losing a close final match in a round-robin that they needed win to qualify for the playoff round. Looking to bounce back at the Walkerton DCS invitational, the Jr. team played a very strong and tall team from Grand River in round-robin play. A victory boosted the team’s confidence. A rematch would see the two teams play in the semi-final and despite losing to Grand River the guys played some inspiring volleyball. This may have been a turning point as the boys realized they had a potential to play some high level volleyball.
The BAA decided to use a different format for playoffs this year. Schools would first compete for the right to represent BAA (District 1/7) at CWOSSA in their respective school classifications (A-AA-AAA). The team played very well and easily defeated Grey Highlands 3-0 and then St.Mary’s of Owen Sound 3-0 in the final. Feeling very good about their game, the Royals entered the BAA tournament as a favourite and it looked like everything would fall into place after winning 2 of the best of 5 sets 25-10, 25-11 versus Owen Sound DSS. However, as can happen, the wheels fell off and the team went on to lose the next three sets 18-25, 27-29 13-15. This was a setback for the team.
Simcoe Composite (Simcoe, ON) would be the location for the Royals to play their best volleyball of the season. They destroyed Norwell SS (Palmerston) 25-10, 25-11 and narrowly defeated St. David’s (Waterloo) 25-23 & 25-22. Having secured a playoff spot, the final match of the round-robin versus Glenview Park (Cambridge) would determine 1st place in the pool. Securing 1st was important as that team would play the second seed in the other pool. The first place team in the other pool was Bishop MacDonnel, undefeated in league play and winning their matches at CWOSSA easily. No team had scored more than 18 points on them all tournament. Glenview Park dropped set 1 to SDSS but won the next 2 as the Royals did not play well defensively. Once again a setback, but the Royals had experienced disappointment earlier in the season and used that feeling to grow as team.
Knowing the match-up for the semi-final, Coach Tim Smith gathered the team to discuss the game plan. “We knew we could run some quick attacks in the middle and freeze their blocking plans,” said Smith. This would allow outside hitters to swing away against one man blocks (advantage attackers). The Royals set the tone early in the final with a few hard spikes keeping the opponent off balance and unable to counter attack. Neutralizing the big threat from Bishop Mac was essential to winning.
Shaan Bandy had his best hitting match of the season and Cameron Smith continued to keep the middle blocker honest by running quick approaches/attacks. The plan was working well and setter David Parsons was able to distribute the ball to all attackers and frustrate the blockers. After taking set one and shocking the spectators, the guys felt this win was within reach. However, they dropped set two and were off to third set with the first team to 15 winning the match. This was a thriller with the lead changing many times. In the end the hitting from Ryan Renaud and game winning swing of Ben Sollors was too much and the final score was 18-16.
In the finals, the Royals would get another shot at Glenview Park who easily marched over Holy Trinity in their semi-final. The local team learned from earlier mistakes in the season and the tournament to put together a terrific effort in the CWOSSA final. Cameron Smith led with strong serving keeping the opponent unable to attack. In one set, he served 12 of the 25 points. Connor McNeill, attacked from the right side playing cat and mouse with blockers and defenders. He hit a number of balls to the back right corner as the defenders left that area open, a challenging shot to execute for a right-handed hitter. After Glenview Park made adjustments, McNeill went out and crushed a cross-court hit as the blocker and digger had moved down the line. Frustration was evident. The team took set one 25-16. Parsons continued to vary his setting location and allow Sollors and Renaud to pound balls scoring on most spikes. Contributing all tournament and sacrificing his body, Libero (defensive specialist) Corey Ribey scrambled to keep many balls alive to provide energy to the Royals squad. In a small but very important role, Jake Lawrence came in to serve and play defense. He was consistent with his serve and missed just one all tournament. Sometimes in the highest pressured scenarios Lawrence scored a point off his serve. The Royals claimed set two, 25-18. After learning from the BAA experience, the team did not let up on the ‘gas pedal’ and defeated their opponent in the third set 25-11.
Colton Legge accepted the CWOSSA plaque and proudly returned it to SDSS. A great season for all involved with some ‘small valleys’ and ‘bigger highs’. A great effort by all the players throughout the season.