RICHMOND — The Kelowna Owls didn’t have access to a crystal ball and that was a good thing, because instead of knowing every obstacle that was going to be throw its way along what would be an historic championship journey, it simply met each challenge day by day until a 68-year drought had finally been quenched.
“The buy-in from everybody on this team was incredible, and in the end, it was everyone out there just playing for each other,” said Owls’ head coach Mike Sodaro after Saturday’s 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 19-25, 25-20) win over Surrey’s Elgin Park Orcas in the top-tiered B.C. Triple A championship final staged at Richmond’s R.A. McMath Secondary School.
And while the Owls were installed as the provincial favourites on opening day back in September, kicking off a season in which they were announced as B.C. tournament hosts, no one could foretell how circuitous a route that title-run would take, and just how large a gulf it would have to cross from the day the B.C. tournament began.
When the province was hit by massive flooding, Kelowna Secondary suddenly became one of the toughest places in B.C. to access.
A new site was found in Richmond, but quite suddenly all of that home-court advantage was gone.
Then, on the opening day of the championships, senior Sebastian Manuel, Kelowna’s top player and something of a consensus choice as B.C.’s top player, was forced out of the championships by injury.
“We were all about team and it showed in the power pool,” said Sodaro, referencing Manuel’s injury. “It showed just what a strong group of guys we have that we just threw in the next guy and stepped it up, and kept pushing.
“It was so nice to see guys like (Grade 11s) Max Gainey and Owen McParland step in and fill shoes by passing, hitting, playing defence. There were guys not in the limelight all year, but they were really able to rally to roles when we needed them. We struggled a bit in the final. Elgin just kept pushing us as hard as they could and guys kept battling.”
Walker Sodaro, the coach’s son, was selected the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“He was unbelievable, but I will always go back to how much of a team effort this was,” said Sodaro. “(Walker) really stepped up but there were 14 guys on this team.”
Among those were the senior quartet of first team all-stars Sam Jablonski (power hitter) and Hudson Farrell (middle blocker), as well as second-team all-star Gavin Margerison (middle) and libero Maxim Storozhuk.
Elgin Park setter Nicholas Johnson and middle Kendall Homenick were also selected to the first-team along with Claremont outside hitter Justin Peng and McMath setter Tyler Tran.
McMath’s Steve Yah was selected Top Libero.
Sodaro had come to helm the Owls senior varsity 10 years ago, and in each season, Kelowna made provincials. Yet getting to the final five times and settling for silver each time took its toll.
“It was just a relief to get that win,” Sodaro admitted afterwards in what has to be the understatement thus far of this 2021-22 re-start season.
“This year, bringing on Brady (Ibbetson) and Steve (Manuel) to coach was just what we needed to get us over the top,” he continued.
“It’s hard enough just getting here, but then to get everyone to buy into what we were doing, it just felt really comfortable.”
And that’s saying something given the unpredictability of the very road to the title in 2021.
A SEMI-FINAL TO REMEMBER
Additionally, Elgin Park and McMath were engaged in a deciding fifth-set in their Friday semifinal at McMath when the power went out.
Surrey’s Orcas were leading 5-3 at the time, and after a meeting of the minds, the match was moved across town to Steveston-London Secondary.
Once there, Elgin Park ultimately prevailed 15-13 to advance to Saturday’s final.
Tournament officials, however, marvelled afterwards at the sportsmanship shown by McMath head coach Daniel Wong.
Tournament rules specify that if a match, once in play, is forced to change locations, that its current set score be re-set to 0-0 before resumption.
Once at Steveston-London, Wong insisted that the score remain 5-3 in the Orcas favour.
B.C. School Sports executive director, Jordan Abney, doubling as tournament director was quoted as saying in a BCSS press release: “As for coach Daniel Wong, stating the match continue from that score, what can you say? A display of sportsmanship and leadership you rarely see, especially with so much at stake. Just an impressive leader for those young men he coaches.”
Second Team All Stars
Gavin Margerison (Middle, Kelowna)
Zach Yewchuk (Right Side, Elgin Park)
Ethan Chang (Outside Hitter, McMath)
Carter Munro (Outside Hitter, Claremont)
Isaac James (Outside Hitter, Steveston-London)
Daniel Lafleur (Outside Hitter, Fraser Heights)
Tristan Cumming (Outside Hitter, Reynolds)
Nathan Lee (Outside Hitter, Steveston-London)
Sean Kennedy (Outside Hitter, Belmont)
Isaac Brajcich (Right Side, Claremont)
Jake Bolton (Outside Hitter, McMath)
*The Osoyoos Rattlers girls won the B.C. Single-A title, and it was the first banner for the Rattlers in any sport.
*Prince George’s Duchess Park Condors won the B.C. boys AA title, becoming just the fourth public school in the last two decades to take the title and the first since Langley Fundamental in 2013.
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