By Bob Carter
When a senior volleyball team loses just once over the course of a long regular season, as Earl Marriott’s boys side did this fall, it usually owns plenty of assets. Strengths, for instance, such as skill, size, depth, experience, versatility, good coaching and smarts.
Without the latter two, Marriott may not have dominated the Fraser Valley South and held the No. 1 AAA ranking from the beginning.
The Mariners, whose only defeat came against College Heights in Kelowna’s Best of the West tournament last month, had to embrace what coach Al Schill saw as fairly basic cornerstones for success: sacrifice and sharing.
Basic, but not necessarily easy to grasp. Consider that all but three players had Team BC experience at some point and nearly all had been starters on various teams in the past. This year, though, would be different. It had to be, the coach told them, if the mix of talent that included some members from last year’s unbeaten BC junior champions would work.
Schill met with the players — and their parents — at the start of the season and explained that playing time would have to be shared.
“We talked to the boys about the situation,” Schill said, “about how sometimes you have to put the team above yourself.”
He said players bought into the idea. Five have shared the libero spot, and some players are versatile enough to play anywhere on the front row and have done so.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Schill said, “but you still have to manage it.”
The Mariners have managed to do most things right as they try to blend into the school’s recent court history. EMS has placed in the top three at the BCs in five of the last eight seasons, including back-to-back titles in 2013-14. If the team continues to avoid pitfalls, it will carry the top AAA seed into the Kahunaverse Sports BC Volleyball Championships Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the Langley Events Centre.
Marriott strengthened its hold on No. 1 by winning the Delta tournament on Nov. 3. It beat Eric Hamber and Delta 3-0, then defeated highly ranked Moscrop in the final 3-1.
The balanced Mariners, who have six Grade 12s as well as five Grade 11s, went 6-0 in Fraser Valley league matches without losing a set and have beaten some of the best teams in AA and AAA.
They’ve done it without Ben Schill, the coach’s son, for much of the way. Ben, a Grade 12 right side and libero, was sidelined with a lower-back problem except for occasional time in the back row. But he played last weekend and will likely slot in at libero in the playoffs.
The Mariners, of course, have plenty of other skilled players back from last year’s squad that placed third at Provincials.
Among them are 6-5 middle Nicholas Prokopic and a pair of other Grade 12 front row veterans, Chris Hamilton and Gurshawn Kaler.
Jason McGonigle returns at setter, and Grade 11 Josh Quiring has seen ample time there as well. Twins Talon and Takoda McMullin, who both played in last year’s BCs as Grade 10s, have made significant contributions.
“Nobody’s sitting a long time. Everyone’s getting their touches,” coach Schill said. “It’s weird. I’ve been involved with quite a few teams, and I’ve never seen one so deep, with so little difference between the best and worst player.”
Schill said he also has been impressed by the team’s volleyball IQ and the players’ eagerness to analyze what transpired in tournaments.
“The mental side has always been a big part of our game,” said Schill, who has been involved with Marriott’s program for five years, the last three as the senior team’s coach. “The players are identifying what needs to be done.”
So far, they’ve been squarely on the mark.