By Gary Ahuja (Special to VarsityLetters.ca)
LANGLEY — It is not how you start or what happens in the middle, but how you finish.
The Abbotsford Christian Knights are living proof of that.
Head coach Anthony Jansen was blunt in his assessment that his team had the talent to win but had battled inconsistency and emotional instability in the weeks leading up to the provincial championships.
And the Knights capped off their rollercoaster season by rallying to defeat the George Elliot Coyotes (Lake Country) 3-1 in the gold-medal match of the Kahunaverse Sports BC Volleyball Championships at Langley Events Centre on Saturday afternoon.
“The focus was unity, and I got commitment from everybody. They pushed and they battled, I don’t have any words for it,” a teary-eyed Jansen said. “I am just so blessed and so grateful, they all worked so hard.”
The Coyotes, the top team heading into provincials, outlasted the Knights 28-26 in the first set before Abby Christian evened the match at one with a 25-23 win in set two. George Elliot led 8-2 and 13-7 in the third set but the Knights rallied to win 25-21 and then closed the match with a 25-18 victory.
This is the first AA championship in school history for Abby Christian, although they do have a Single A banner from earlier this decade.
“I told them it is not our day to quit playing no matter what because we have done that in the past (where) we have chosen to stop playing,” Jansen said. “This is an opportunity to not quit and keep fighting and that is what got us through the game.”
Knights star Cole Brandsma – who was named most outstanding player – said his team needed to up its energy level and they were able to accomplish that.
“It has been a rollercoaster of a season and we realized it was our last chance and we were able to bring it,” he said.
Abby Christian finished tied atop their league with an 8-2 record but dropped to fourth place following back-to-back losses to close the Fraser Valley championships. And the team – now seeded sixth for provincials compared to third where they were ranked following the regular season – struggled on Wednesday, the first day of the provincial championships.
They did win their pool at 3-0 but it was not until the final match of the day that Jansen was happy with his team’s energy and passion and levels.
“That match gave them a lot of confidence and they just took it and ran,” he explained.
The Knights beat Lambrick Park 3-0 (round of 16), MEI 3-2 (quarter-finals) and Langley Christian 3-1 (semifinals) to set up a showdown with the Coyotes.
The Langley Christian victory was also vindication for Abby Christian as their Fraser Valley foe had defeated the Knights in last year’s provincial final.
“In the final (last year) we fell flat. I think we were intimidated and scared, so this time we prepared a little differently and talked about how big the event is and enjoy the moment and enjoy the experience and not be overwhelmed by all of it,” Jansen said.
Brandsma, who is off to UBC to play for the Thunderbirds after graduation, echoed those sentiments.
“We had been there before and knew what to expect, what the environment was going to be like and how fun it was. That really helped,” he explained.
“This is for them (Grade 12), they have battled a lot of emotion in the last couple of months, some injuries, some frustrations,” Jansen said about his five graduating seniors.
For the Coyotes, a great season came up one win short of the ultimate prize.
“They ran out of gas and got a little nervous. A couple of the key guys were not their regular selves. They were probably over thinking things a little bit rather than just letting themselves flow out there,” said coach Chris Frehlick.
“They have had a good five-year run, a lot of success. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”
In the bronze medal game, Langley Christian defeated Prince George’s College Heights Cougars 3-0.
With Abby Christian’s victory, Fraser Valley teams have won eight straight and 12 of the past 13 AA championships.
Chatwin Denton (Prince Charles), Jackson Campbell (Richmond Christian), Jackson Stephens (Surrey Christian), Dayton O’Neill (College Heights), Connor Piers (Abbotsford Christian) and Brendan Visser (Abbotsford Christian) were named second team all-stars.
The first team all-stars were Matthew Shand (College Heights), Jackson Klaassen (MEI), Roan McCarthy (George Elliot), Jonas Van Huizen (Langley Christian), Caleb Kastelein (Langley Christian) and Matthew Darley (George Elliot).
Langley Christian’s Ethan Visscher was named top libero and College Heights was the most sportsmanlike team.
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