By Bob Carter
Abbotsford Christian and College Heights came close in 2017. Now the Knights, AA silver medalists last year, and the Cougars, who placed fourth last year and second in 2016, are preparing for another title pursuit in the Kahunaverse Sports BC Volleyball Championships.
The event runs Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at Langley Events Centre.
The two teams are among those that have been chasing top-ranked George Elliot (Lake Country) most of the season.
ACS, which lost to repeat champ Langley Christian in last year’s final, is again powered by 6-6 Cole Brandsma, a Grade 12 outside hitter. The UBC signee was a member of Volleyball Canada’s National Youth Team earlier in the year.
“Cole is very skilled, but he’s as humble as he is spectacular,” said Knights coach Anthony Jansen. “He’s pretty consistent emotionally and plays hard to support his team. A quiet leader.”
The Knights played well for most of the regular season but lost two late Fraser Valley league matches (to LCS and MEI) when Brandsma was out with an ankle injury. Soon after his return, the team dropped two matches in the zone playoffs (to MEI and Surrey Christian), slipping to a sixth seed for the BCs.
Asked about his squad prior to the Fraser Valleys, Jansen said, “They’re still a young team that’s trying to figure some things out.”
College Heights (Prince George) had a better zone showing last week and earned the second seed behind George Elliot in the top AA power pool at Langley. The Cougars won the North Central playoffs, beating Kelly Road in the final.
Six players returned from a year ago, including two talented left sides, Matthew Shand and Nolan Minck. Shand was a first team all-star at last year’s BCs and Minck a second-team selection.
“Matt’s a very good jumper who hits a heavy ball,” CH coach Linden Smith said. “He’s also becoming a smarter player.”
Minck, a skillful passer, sometimes gets overlooked, Smith said, because he doesn’t jump as high as Shand, but he’s a highly efficient hitter.
The two get help up front from right side Isaiah Ohori and middle Dayton O’Neill.
Ohori, Smith said, was a “go-to” hitter in junior and club play. “But he got thrown into a role where we needed him on the right side. To get on the floor, he had to adapt, but he’s improving. He quickly earned his keep.”
O’Neill stands about 6-5 or 6-6, Smith said, “but has a wingspan of 6-8. He has crazy long arms. He’s definitely one of the most underrated middles (in BC). His game has improved a lot.”
Other key contributors include setter Zach Ohori, Isaiah’s older brother, and a second middle, Rafael Rodrigues.
The team’s strengths: strong attacking from the left side, good blocking and defence.
As Abby Christian tries to rebound from its zone showing, the Knights almost certainly will be led by Brandsma, not only by his talent but the intangibles he brings.
“He’s a big confidence booster when he’s on the court,” Jansen said. “He calms everyone down.”
Brandsma also has a dependable supporting cast that includes 6-3 Grade 12 Connor Piers, a left-handed hitter who plays the right side; Grade 12 setter Brandon Visser, a Team BC player last year; and 6-3 middle Josh Apperloo, a Grade 11 who has played every position but setter this season.
Visser has matured greatly, Jansen said. “He hustles really well, and gets to almost every ball. He’s very dedicated, probably the hardest worker on the team.”
Jansen indicated earlier this month that he liked the team’s unity but thought his side needed to raise its grit level in the postseason.
“We’re working on trying to dig the ball, get balls up and fight to the end,” he said. “We need to be gritty and defensive-minded. We’ve had some games where we’ve come back and others we haven’t.
“It’s about the kids finding that rhythm. They can do it.”