By Bob Carter
Next week’s Big Kahuna BC Volleyball Championships will display plenty of panache in a fourth appearance at the Langley Events Centre.
The high school event, scheduled for Nov. 29-Dec. 2, has added the AAAA girls tournament this year, elevating the number of overall teams to 52. In a rare circumstance, the Championships will feature all three tiers’ MVPs from last season.
Returning are Semiahmoo’s Mike Dowhaniuk (AAA boys), Langley Christian’s Brodie Hofer (AA boys) and Belmont’s Savannah Purdy (AAAA girls). All have been Team BC players as well.
That’s only the top of a long list of standouts that includes Mount Baker’s Caleb Peters, Abbotsford Christian’s Cole Brandsma and Handsworth’s Kayla Oxland.
In addition, the LCS boys and Belmont girls – both top seeds – will have a good chance to repeat as champions. Semiahmoo, the defending AAA boys titlist, may have a more difficult task as a seventh seed.
Mount Baker, led by 6-5 outside hitter Caleb Peters, will go in as the No. 1 seed in AAA.
The Wild, from Cranbrook, placed 11th in the 2016 provincials, but will bring a bigger and better team to the LEC this time. Baker can put up a front row that averages nearly 6-6.
“We knew we’d have a strong team with lots of height,” coach Karley Ferner said.
The Wild, who faced some good competition at four Alberta tournaments, could be challenged in Langley by a large group that includes Delta, Earl Marriott and Semiahmoo of the Fraser Valley; Oak Bay from Vancouver Island and the Okanagan’s OKM and Mount Boucherie.
Oak Bay coach Al Carmichae sees a lot of parity in the tier and thinks as many as 10 teams have a shot at a medal.
Marriott, a Surrey school with a superb volleyball reputation, had a top boy and girl fall to injuries earlier this month. The fourth-seeded boys lost Malachi McMullin (ankle), and the second-seeded girls lost Danica Cowie (MCL). Both outside hitters were first-team provincial all-stars last fall.
The Mariners may not be done, though. The girls won the Fraser Valley title last week, and the boys finished runner-up to Delta, which was seeded second for the BCs.
Oak Bay (Victoria), the third AAA seed, is powered by 6-5 middle Cam Hayes and 6-7 setter Riley Cronk.
“We’re still on a steep learning curve,” said Carmichael, who has coached five teams to BC senior titles.
Langley Christian of the FVC has Brodie Hofer back after the 6-6 attacker broke two toes in August. He played the final month, helping the defending BC titlists unseat then-No.1 Duchess Park with a 3-0 win over the Condors in the George Elliot tournament final.
Carol Hofer, Brodie’s mother and LCS coach, said losing such a key player was difficult for the team at the start. “But they came together,” she said. “The team has never been about one player.”
The Lightning’s Trevor Koch and Caleb Kastelein helped fill some of Hofer’s absence and the team stayed strong until its standout returned for the last few weeks.
Second seed Duchess Park (Prince George) has an experienced team, a new head coach in former TRU setter Colin Carson, dominating hitters in 6-5 Cody Boulding and 6-6 Ryan Hampe and an athletic setter, Carter Karpenko.
The lanky 6-5 Brandsma, a member of Canada’s national U16 select team, led No. 4 seed Abby Christian to a solid season, and rising Okanagan champ George Elliot, the third seed, also figures strongly in the AA picture.
Other AA contenders include the 5-8 seeds: Richmond Christian (Lower Mainland), MEI (FVC), the Kootenay’s Prince Charles and Prince George’s College Heights, last year’s AA silver medalist.
Defending champ and No. 1 Belmont of Victoria was heading toward an unbeaten regular season until AA Langley Christian beat the Bulldogs in a close, 3-setter at the Red Serge tournament early in November.
Purdy, a 6-2 outside hitter who is headed to Trinity Western, said the loss might end up being beneficial. She said her team had a bad serving day but was quick to praise LCS.
“They played very well,” she said. “You have to give it to them. The match will remind us to work hard all the time.”
The Bulldogs return a full squad from last year’s group that won the championship without any Grade 12s. Returnees include sisters Hannah May, a right side who was a first-team BCs all-star, and middle blocker Gracie May.
Host Handsworth lost to Belmont in the provincial final last year in North Vancouver, and the third-seeded Royals again have a potent team, directed by setter Oxland, who is also a good hitter.
The two-time provincial all-star, a UBC recruit, exhibits diverse skills, competitiveness and leadership. Her father, Tom Oxland, coaches the Royals, and three older sisters also played high school volleyball.
Belmont has beaten Handsworth twice this fall, but Bulldogs coach Mike Toakley said the Royals’ defence is always impressive: “It’s like playing tennis against the wall.”
Teams such as Marriott, Lord Tweedsmuir and Semiahmoo of the FVC and Burnaby’s Moscrop will certainly challenge last year’s finalists, though a title rematch is hardly out of the question.
Few things are in this year’s expanded edition of the Big Kahuna BC Championships.