In the Volleyball Alberta Premier #1 South Tournament, the first ever seeding-tournament to split teams between northern and southern Alberta, and the first time since 2011 to see 17U and 18U teams competing together, there was a slightly different kind of pressure for all athletes and coaches involved. You could sense the trepidation from all teams because of the new format.

The 403 Selects 18U girls were no different and despite much preparation, they know all too well that these tournaments are often fraught with surprises. With 27 other teams starting in the southern Alberta Tournament, the first day saw 403 in Pool Play with Queens 18U, Ace A.O.N. Elite and LVC Avengers. Our girls went 2-0 in their first two matches and were fully expecting a tough match with Queens 18U, a team that they’d split with in a pre-season tournament. Winning the first set, 403 looked like they just might finish Pool Play with a 3-0 record, just like the 403 17U girls enjoyed. However, Queens 18U rallied to win a tough fought match in 3 sets, leaving the 403 18U girls with a 2-1, second place finish and a very tough crossover with SAVC Shock 17U.

AVA 1 Golden Smiles

SAVC teams are always tough in competition and this match proved to be no different. Arguably, it would be the most important match of the weekend. Win, end up in the top 8, lose, and end up in the bottom 6 of Division 1 in Premier 1. Trading points in the first set and finding themselves behind 24-23, Coach Spooner called a time out. 403 came out of the time out to score 3 consecutive points to win 26-24. How close could this match get? How about 403 finding themselves behind 24-23 yet again in the second set? As unlikely as this sounds, Coach Spooner again called a time out to refocus the team. 403 stepped back onto the court, fully engaged, score yet another 3 straight points to win the 2nd set 26-24 and win the match 2-0. We’re not sure what was said in those two time outs, but in retrospect, we do know it was priceless.

Finishing second in their pool meant that despite winning the crossover, the positioning on the playoff grid had 403 facing whoever would have finished first in Pool B, the pool with the number two ranked team going into the tournament. Being ranked number 10 themselves, 403 knew they’d have nothing to lose. Seeing that they’d be facing the ever-powerful 18U Dinos only solidified that sentiment. An obvious underdog, they provided a strong showing through most of the first set, being able to keep within 3 points of the Dinos, until they somehow pulled ahead, continuing to fight for the points they needed to win the first set. The second set, Dinos scored 3 quick points to jump out into the lead. Determined to give everything they had to this match, the 403 Selects 18U girls pressed and quickly found themselves up 18-11. They did not relinquish the lead and held off the Dinos to win in straight sets.

Headed for the semi-final round for the first time in this particular team’s five year history was certainly a great feeling for the athletes and coaches. They were facing SAVC Storm 18U, another exceptionally strong team full of excellent athletes. SAVC flexed and quickly won the first set. Leading 17-10 in the 2nd set, it looked like SAVC was going to be advancing to the gold medal match. Not giving up on each other and to the contrary, protecting each other’s backs, 403 ended up with a 29-27 win with some very scrappy ball. The 3rd set found this 403 Selects team ahead 8-7 at the switch and ultimately fending off SAVC to win their first semi-final match, ever.

Their final match of the day was against Canuck Cougars 17U/18U. Led by Ellie Prince and seeing some exceptional efforts from the entire team all day long, 403 18U found themselves again tied with a very strong team as they headed into the third set. The third set turned out to be almost a carbon copy of the semifinal match against SAVC, with 403 leading 8-7 at the switch. With both teams giving exceptional efforts, 403 Selects ended a simply magical weekend with gold medals around their necks.

Congratulations to all the teams; athletes and coaches alike that provided a very exceptional weekend of hard fought and exciting competition. It would be remiss to not recognize and also congratulate Tyler Spooner, Michele Prince and Bethany Bartel for their influence on this group of athletes.

18U AVA 1 (2014)-788