Thursday May 12th: the 14U 403 girls all meet at Calgary International Airport to take the short fight to Winnipeg for the 2016 Western Nationals Tournament taking on teams from BC to Ontario in the final competition of the 2015/16 season, the girls were very excited for the prospect of the journey but also determined that this was going to be a great culminating tournament to cap of the season. It would be a long weekend with 3 days of competition as well as the travel day. A lot of planning went into the weekend from the teams support parents to ensure that meals, lunches, snacks and breakfasts were all planned allowing the coaches and girls to focus solely on their performance on the courts and staying rested in between.

Day 1 was the initial pool matches to set the Power Pools for day 2. We were placed as top seed in our pool with the Royal Impact (SK), FOG Packers (AB) and Canuck Black (AB) and the first match set the tone for day 1 with our girls bringing strong services putting the opponents on the back foot and not allowing them to get settled into their game. The second sets were generally closer affairs with teams more settled and prepared for the stronger serve that all of our girls brought to the matches. The first game against the Royal Impact went 403’s way 25-10, 25-23. The second against the 4th seed FOG Packers was a very quick affair with our girls dispatching their opponents 25-6 and 25-12 in under 40 minutes. The final match of the day was against a well known opponent, Canuck Black, and it proved a tighter fixture overall but the first set was similar to the others with our serves getting the Canucks off guard and off balance early and also had us establishing our middle attack for the first time in the day and seeing Halla play this position for the first time this season, coupled with some dogged defence from Taylor in the back court keeping the ball alive for the team to close out the set 25-11. The second set saw Lara playing through the power position and she took to the role well hitting some very hard attacks from the 4-spot keeping the Canucks scrambling, something they did exceptionally well with some great saves from off court, and keeping the game alive and tight but the overall stronger play from the 403s allowed us to hold the lead and force the errors from our opponents at the critical point in the set to take the win 25-23 and top spot in the pool going into the Power Pool on Saturday.

Day two was another round-robin format to determine Quarter Finals. In this round we faced Regina CVC (SK), CATS Gold (MB) and Jnr Bison Brown (MB). Game one was against the team from Regina (Cougars) and our girls started the day as we left off Day1; strong serving, determined defence and a solid front line. Great serving from Taylor and Sadie saw us take the first set 25-12. In the second set our girls kept up the pressure and even added a new slide reverse attack to the repertoire when Megan slid to her natural hitting side as a left handed player and blasted the ball down, the Cougars were felled in 14 points. Game two saw our first six on court totally dominate the set from the first whistle in all areas of the game and the CATS were quickly dispatched for six points. The second set was a completely different affair with the CATS bringing the game to us and forcing some errors in serve receive, we were fighting for the game from the outset and Coach Mike had to make some changes at the mid-point but we continued losing ground until we were 23-17 down at which point calmer heads prevailed with Halla serving and the team played their way back to 23 all exchanging serves to 25-all when we took the initiative and closed the set and the game out 27-25. The final match of the day was against the girls from Jnr Bison Browns and in this game both sets of girls brought almost exactly the same determined, controlled and disciplined game to the court resulting in both set going our way 25-12, this quick match (taking less than 40mins in total) ensured our girls a place in the Quarter Finals of Tier 1 against the Browns other team Jnr Bison Gold. Saturday night saw our girls relax and unwind from the day at another local restaurant but not too much socializing unfortunately as we had a big final day ahead of us.

With the games on Sunday being knock-out this first game was a critical one and both teams knew it and brought their best for the assembled spectators both at the court and watching on-line. Set 1 was 403’s from the start once again bringing their signature serve and defence to the game and keeping the Gold firmly off-balance. It was a truly team effort with the bench helping with some tight baseline calls giving our back court girls the extra pairs of eyes needed in key games; final score, 25-11. Set two had the Gold bring their “A” game and taking an early lead making our girls work the hardest of the weekend so far just to keep in touch. An unfortunate incident on some tight play between two Bison players at the net saw their key middle player (#15) badly injure her left foot retiring her from the tournament, everyone on the 403 team wishes her a speedy recovery. Coach Mike tried to turn the outcome with some substitutions but we were never able to close the gap and fell 21-25 setting up what would be an exceptionally good 3rd set. Bisons started strong and took an early 5 point lead, some substitutions were made but we found ourselves behind 8-4 at the turn. Taking the line at 7-10 down Kirsty showed exceptional calm and served us back to 10 all giving the girls the catalyst they needed to build from, which they did with style, pushing the girls ahead and finally taking the set 15-13 on a stuff block by Lara – the parents all agreed that we had probably expended as much nervous energy on the sidelines cheering and encouraging the girls on as they had expended on the court – a true TEAM effort!

Semi-finals game were against the only team in the tournament from Ontario, Leaside, a very strong and disciplined team that had placed 9th in the Eastern Provincials. From the start the girls from Ontario showed their strength in all aspects of the game putting our first six in scramble mode for the first time in the tournament. The 403 girls did their best to rally their position in the middle of the set but Leaside were just too strong and well organized to relinquish their lead and we fell 20-25. The second set saw Leaside continue their run and the constant pressure tested our girls finding their technique wanting at the very moment they needed it the most, they worked as hard as they had all weekend but the girls from Ontario were determined to make the finals and we just didn’t have the shots in the bag to turn the result around falling in the second 25-18 setting up a Bronze medal match with a familiar team in the Canuck Reds.
Our girls were determined to go home with a medal and from the start of the warm-up you could tell they wanted this win as badly as any during the season. From the outset the first six brought their best game to the court and dispatched any loose balls from the Canuck girls with authority establishing a solid attack across the front line splitting the Canucks block and making their defence have to work extra hard to stay in the game. Solid transition play from our girls ensured we were never in any trouble and we quickly took the first set 25-10. The second six took to the court set on playing just as well as the first and, with their confidence growing with every play, the girls worked together exceptionally well across the whole court (and sometimes off it chasing down loose balls) to ensure no ball went towards the ground without a hand going for it. In the end our girls were just too strong for the Canuck girls and we pushed through to the end closing out the set, the match, the tournament and the season with overall 3rd place at the Western Nationals.

Once again this success was only possible through the hard work of many people both on and off the court; from the girls putting in the time in practices; to the coaches giving up their valuable time to teach and mentor our daughters; to the parents who ensured that at every tournament there was plenty of healthy, high energy, food available for them when it was needed. Particular thanks for this weekend go out to Shannon, Susan and Renee for their tireless efforts on the food front; Susie, Nicole and Carrie for the scoring; Gary, Frank and Gordon for taking care of the Stats; Sergei and Oksana for all the great pictures; Dan and Colleen for the videography and to all the other parents for their support (the Sons of 403!!) both on and off the court – without everyone taking part the girls wouldn’t have had the experiences or success that they did.

Thanks to everyone for a great and successful 2015/16 season, have a fun filled and safe summer and we look forward to seeing all of you back on the courts in the 2016/17 season.