Sweeping the board in terms of banners in a major territorial sporting event is a tough chore.
William McDonald School had the chance to do just that in Junior Spike It! over the weekend and very nearly pulled it off.
In the end, the Wildcats ended up with three banners out of a possible six by winning the Grade 6 boys, Grade 7 girls and Grade 8 girls titles. Perhaps even more impressive, they ended up as the runner-up in the Grade 6 girls, Grade 7 boys and Grade 8 boys divisions.
An impressive feat nonetheless considering all six finals featured a team from the school and that included the Grade 7 girls final at William McDonald Gymnasium itself where the school had both of its teams in the final. It was a guaranteed banner but the game went all three sets before William McDonald Blue downed William McDonald White, 2-1.
Darren Wicks, the school’s phys-ed teacher, was looking after the operations at his school and he said the final was exactly what you would want in a decider.
“It was extremely tight,” he said. “Both semifinals went three sets and the final went three sets. Lots of fun and the excitement was obvious.”
The school had a total of 24 girls playing in the Grade 7 division and so the chore for Wicks was to try and make things as even as possible.
He said the school’s success didn’t come by loading up a team with the best players.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
“As competitive as I am, my goal is to make sure everything is fairly done and the players are spread out as best as they can be,” he said. “I focus on just having everyone play and there’s no stacking whatsoever. I insisted on having the Grade 7 girls teams play each other twice to make sure the teams were even.”
Benji Straker, who coached William McDonald in the Grade 7 girls division, said both of the semifinal victories were character-building in that it gave the girls a bit of adversity to overcome, something they hadn’t experienced to that point.
In the final, he said the goal was simply to have a fun game with both teams mixed up.
“We didn’t want to do anything too competitive because it was two teams from the same school,” he said.
The other big winners on the weekend was St. Joe’s as the Huskies won the Grade 6 girls and Grade 7 boys divisions. As you can already guess, both of those wins came over William McDonald.
Cory Taylor was in charge of the Grade 7 boys team that beat the Wildcats in the final in straight sets, capping off an unbeaten weekend, and he said the final almost didn’t happen for his boys.
“We got a good scare from Range Lake North in the semifinal,” he said. “We had to come back in that one and that woke the boys up.”
Taylor had to call a timeout during a lean stretch for his boys in that semifinal to get them to shake out the cobwebs.
“We had to stop the unforced errors because they were costing us points,” he said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes to wake them up and they responded well.”
Going into the final against the Wildcats, Taylor said he was still a bit worried about going into it knowing the target was squarely on their backs.
“I’m not a big fan of being unbeaten going into the playoffs because there’s always the fear of a fourth-placed team playing the game of their lives and beating you,” he said. “That’s why the semifinal was a good wake-up call for us and the boys responded with an amazing game. They represented the school well and showed great sportsmanship all the way through.”
Junior Spike It! uses what’s known as the Tripleball system, a hybrid form of youth volleyball. The basics are still involved and serving is still included but the big difference comes after a point is scored off of a serve.
The team that got scored on receives a ball thrown into play by their coach and there must be at least two touches of the ball on their side before the ball can go over the net. After that, the other team gets the same chance to receive a ball thrown into play from their coach. In both situations, the team that wins the rally still scores a point.
Taylor said he’s a fan of the system.
“I like it because the kids get lots of touches and they get plenty of playing time,” he said. “It worked for us because we had a small team and plenty of rotation.”
Rotation is something Straker likes as well because the players all get close to equal playing time but the Tripleball system for him is a way for the players to work on the basics.
“We worked on reception and when you toss the ball into play, you get a chance to go for three hits every time,” he said. “The ball is controlled, unlike a serve, and so the kids can work on getting that first pass to the setter and so on.”