With teammates Abby Hettinga and Cali Cencig in support, Kelowna Owls' Ryenn Schutz rises for a block during the Best of the West girls and boys volleyball tournament staged at Kelowna Secondary this past weekend. Owls teams won both championship finals and the boys, who topped Langley Chrisitan for gold, can be seen in the midst of their match as well. (Photo property of KSS athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)
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A golden moment times two as Kelowna Owls girls & boy volleyball win simultaneous, side-by-side double gold at own Best of the West invitational!

KELOWNA — In case you were looking for signs of school spirit coming out of COVID’s lost 2020-21 season, the fans inside the gym as Kelowna Secondary School this past weekend, although limited by health protocols, gave every indication that it’s clearly alive and well.

The Best of the West senior boys and girls volleyball tournament, which wrapped up Saturday, featured not only a unique championship final structure, but by the virtue of two of its finalists, a most raucous and memorable championship atmosphere.

Both of the host Owls senior girls and boys teams found their way to their respective championships, and both wound up taking top spot.

“But what really makes it remarkable is that the boys finals and the girls final are played side-by-side on our centre courts,” said Kelly Hettinga, head coach of the two-time defending B.C. Quad-A senior girls champion Owls, who beat the crosstown rival Okanagan Mission Huskies in straight sets (25-18, 25-19) in the title match.

The best part of the evening for Hettinga?

As his team was putting together the final few moments of its victory over the Huskies, he noticed that the Owls’ AAA-No. 1-ranked boys team, which had just beaten the Langley Christian Lightning 2-1 (25-21, 20-25, 15-9) in its own tournament final, has curtailed its own post-match congratulations to start clapping and lending support to the girls.

“It was so easy for them to get wrapped up in their own celebration, but after about 20 seconds, they had stopped to cheer on the girls,” Hettinga relayed. “Afterwards, they all celebrated together.”

It was just another example of why high school sports, in the most organic ways possible, bring out the best in our youth.

“It showed me, in that moment, that the volleyball program at KSS had become more of a community than just a program and that these kids all support each other,” said Hettinga.

“To me, it was a visual representation of the health of the programs and how happy we all are to be back.”

It’s rare enough that the Best of the West event is one of the very few girls-and-boys tournaments in any B.C. high school sport, but putting that together this past Saturday with the fact the Owls teams had not both made the championship final since 2008 made it even more special.

A lot of smiles! Kelowna Owls boys and girls senior volleyball teams each won gold as the hosts of the Best of the West, a girls and boys volleyball tournament staged this past weekend. (Photo property of KSS athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

This year’s girl’s draw featured 32 teams, and competition was tough throughout as the Owls, B.C. AAAA champs in 2018 and ’19, and No. 8-ranked this season, fell in the round-robin portion of the event to Surrey’s Pacific Academy Breakers.

The Owls, however, topped rival Mt. Boucherie in the quarters, then beat Abbotsford Christian 2-0 (25-21, 26-24) in the semifinals, rallying from 24-21 down with the final five points of the second set.

Abby Hettinga, the Owls’ 5-foot-10 senior left side, won tourney MVP while middle blockers Ryenn Schutz and Mikki Green and libero Tarynn Hope represented the Owls on the all-star team. OKM’s setter/right side Grace Blaskovitz and libero Bella Filapenko were also picked to the all-star team.

The Owls boys were also well-decorated after its title win over the Lightning.

Sebastien Manuel was selected the MVP while Walker Sodaro, Hudson Farrell and Owen McParland were named all-stars.

The senior Manuel, a starting setter, was lauded by head coach Michael Sodaro “as the most powerful hitter on the team form the outside.

“The key for our team this weekend was our passing,” said Sodaro. “I feel that if we can pass well, then everything else will fall into place and we will have good intensity in other areas.

“Our coaching crew has been around most of our guys since Grade 7,” he added, “and I have to say that so far, this is the easiest team that I have had to coach.”

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