By Bob Carter
High school volleyball’s biggest provincial party will look a little larger, and more feminine, this fall.
The Big Kahuna BC Volleyball Championships have expanded from the normal array of 36 teams (20 AAA boys and 16 AA boys) to 52 with the addition of 16 AAAA girls squads. The four-day BCs will be held Nov. 29-Dec. 2 at Langley Events Centre.
The boys, as in the past, are scheduled to compete Wednesday through Saturday, and the girls’ three-day championship runs from Thursday to Saturday. The three tournaments will come to a stirring conclusion with all bronze- and gold-medal matches set for the final day.
Organizers are eager to see how the experiment develops.
“I’m excited,” said Seaquam head coach Todd Clarke, the BCs’ girls coordinator. “I feel this is the right direction for girls volleyball, worth the effort, worth the try. It’s going to be a unique event, and whoever wins it this year will have a unique memory.”
Sharon Carter, the Championships’ director, recalled the U.S. Nationals as a club coach and seeing “hundreds of athletes competing side by side, all in the same venue. The excitement was palpable. Our committee wants to provide a big-tournament atmosphere to the BCs.”
Mike Toakley, head coach of defending AAAA girls champion Belmont, also is enthused about the venture.
“The idea was sold to us as a showcase for high school volleyball, not just girls’ volleyball or boys’, but the sport as a whole,” Toakley said. “This is going to be more of a spectacle.”
Making the spectacle a reality has demanded more organizing work across the board. The most demanding challenges, Carter said, are re-doing schedules and finding enough officials to accommodate the girls’ presence. The event’s match count will be 176, an increase of 54.
The girls actually have been included before – they joined the AA and AAA boys in 2003 at Kelowna – but this marks the first time volleyball’s top tiers of boys and girls share the bright provincial spotlight in the Vancouver area.
Toakley said part of the incentive from the girls’ side was the possibility of more media coverage. “A lot of people think the media are more likely to show up,” he said, “if the boys and girls are at one place.”
The girls’ AAAA provincials normally are held at a different locale, a different zone, each year, and 2017 was the Fraser Valley’s turn. Though the girls are accustomed to being the only show in town, wherever the town might be, other factors certainly sweeten this year’s inclusion at the LEC.
“There was some concern that the focus will be taken off the girls a little bit,” Earl Marriott head girls coach Mark Cassell said, “but the bigness of it will compensate for anything we might lose. The girls like that it’s a big event.”
All matches at the Championships will be played at the LEC, another bonus for the girls who usually have to switch between two or three venues at the provincials.
Another obvious difference: Wherever the girls look, they’ll find boys. “We might have to deal with distractions a little more,” Cassell hinted.
Fortunately, Toakley, Clarke, Cassell and others have considerable coaching experience at the BCs, probably enough to handle any of the new variables this year’s event may present.
In 1997, Toakley’s first year teaching at Belmont, he led the Bulldog boys to a provincial title, and in 2000 he did it with the Victoria school’s senior girls, again in his first year with the team. Last season the girls claimed another BC title with a squad consisting mostly of Grade 10s and 11s that qualified as a wild card.
That sets up Belmont as the favourite to repeat.
“This group is pretty focussed, even though they know they’re the favourites,” Toakley said. “Of course, you always have to worry about complacency.”
Clarke’s girls have made the BCs in nine of the past 13 years, winning the title in 2011 and finishing second the next two seasons.
Cassell, coaching EMS for the ninth year, has guided the Mariners to two silver medals and two bronze in the past five seasons and would love to grab gold this fall, especially so close to home. He thinks playing the BCs a half-hour drive from the school could attract more EMS fans, possibly providing an edge.
Most of all, Clarke knows that this year’s experience will be new in multiple ways. He also knows that the girls coaches will have plenty to dissect after the event at their AGM.
If anything, he is energized by the prospects of playing at the spacious LEC.
“We’re playing in a different venue, there’s a different vibe and a whole new level of organization,” Clarke said. “There’s definitely something special about it. We want people to realize that they’re privileged to play there.”