By Bob Carter
How much does experience weigh into a team’s success? Usually a huge amount. There are exceptions every year — like last season’s Grade 11-heavy Langley Fundamental boys team that peaked in the BC’s and finished second to MEI in AA. Now, less than a month into the 2016 season, Fundy is ranked No. 1 with an experienced group and MEI is sixth with a much younger team. In AAA, veteran squads such as top-ranked Kelowna and No. 2 Walnut Grove lead the way while less experienced teams such as defending champ Oak Bay and perennially strong Fraser Heights are unranked at the start.
Here’s an early look at two AAA teams along with AA Fundamental.
The Owls, says coach Mike Sodaro, are “an experienced team with 10 Grade 12s, all of them playing for me last year and playing club.”
KSS isn’t gigantic but has decent size and played the first month without starter Kyle Butchart (turned ankle). The Owls won the Pen Hi tournament and beat third-ranked AAA Van Tech 2-0 for bronze at the 40-team UBC tourney.
They lost 15-13 in the third to St. Paul’s in the final, the only team to take a set from the tough Manitoba squad.
Sodaro says passing, as always, is key for his team. “Can’t pass, can’t play,” he says.
He knows past success makes the Owls, who were title runners-up three straight seasons in 2012-14, a big target.
“There are no easy games. Trying to convince the kids they have to be up for a challenge each day is tough, but I love this group. I hope we not only return as a top seed (to the BC’s), but play like one and earn a shot at a championship.”
The Barbers have won AAA titles three of the past five years but flash a young look this season.
“We’re rebuilding,” coach Al Carmichael says. “It had to happen.”
The team graduated six from last year’s champions and has only three Grade 12s and one returning starter, 6-5 middle Cam Hayes.
Carmichael says he also has some good athletes who “really aren’t volleyball players, but we’ll try to make them into that. The good thing is we’ve got some height to work with.”
The size includes 6-6 Riley Cronk, who is converting to setter this year.
Oak Bay finished mid-pack at UBC, losing close matches to OKM and Fraser Heights, and Carmichael sees his team as probably about fourth-best on the Island now. “But I think we can move up,” he says.
Dan Johnson’s Titans are carrying last year’s provincial run into this year. They won the TWU Invitational and grabbed the top AA ranking, spurred by the same talented trio as a year ago — Phil Stahl, Zec Johnson and Max Heppel, all Grade 12s now.
“We’re predominantly a Grade 12 team with one Grade 10 and two 11s,” coach Johnson says. “Jacob de Wolff (Grade 11) has playing real well in the middle, and Jordan Goh has been doing a fantastic job at libero.”
The toughest teams he has seen early this season are “Langley Christian with Brodie Hofer playing really big, as well as Pacific Academy with Nate Teasdale attacking very aggressively.”
After placing second a year ago, Johnson says the team’s goal is to win the championship in December. “But we’ll need to work super hard as several teams like Langley Christian, MEI and PA will be super tough.”
(Bob Carter can be reached at email@example.com)