By Gary Ahuja
Langley Events Centre
LANGLEY — All that is standing in the way of the Kelowna Owls’ first AAA provincial volleyball championship in 66 years is an Earl Marriott Mariners program on a dominant three-year run.
In 2017, Surrey’s Mariners were 38-0 and captured the junior boys provincial title.
After graduating to the senior ranks, the core of that team helped Earl Marriott win the senior boys crown in 2018. And this season, the Mariners entered as the top seed among the 20 teams here at the 2019 B.C. Secondary School Senior Boys Triple-A volleyball championships.
On Saturday at 5 p.m., the No. 1 Mariners face the No. 2 Kelowna Owls for the gold medal as four days of volleyball comes to a close at Langley Events Centre.
The Mariners were 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 27-25) winners over Kelowna’s No. 7 Okanagan Mission Huskies while the Owls held off the No. 3 Claremont Spartans of Victoria 3-1 (16-25, 25-20, 26-24, 25-17).
Since dropping the opening set on day one of the provincial tournament to Claremont during pool play, the Mariners have responded by winning their past 15 sets to earn a spot in the gold-medal game.
“When we are dialled in and locked in, we are a hard team to beat,” said Mariners coach Dale Quiring. “When the chips are down, we just stick together.”
Friday’s semifinal was a perfect example as they were down before rallying for the 25-23 win.
“We maintained a positive attitude and we were dialed and locked in,” continued Quiring. “And they didn’t give up. Even when we were down in the first set – I think we were down five or six points – they just kept hammering at it. And that is the discipline and stamina of this team. They just stay focused.”
On the other side of the draw, the Owls suffered a nine-point loss in their opening set before stringing together three straight sets to take the match.
The Spartans made a push in the fourth set, but Kelowna held on for the 26-24 win and then began the fourth and final set with six straight points (all off serves) to close the match out 25-17.
Owls head coach Mike Sodaro said a realistic goal at the start of the season for his squad was a spot in the semifinals.
Now KSS has its eyes on a bigger prize: the program’s first championship since 1953.
Kelowna has come close with six second-place finishes, including three straight defeats in the 2012 to 2014 title games, and again in 2016. Both the 2013 and 2014 losses came at the hands of Earl Marriott.
This year’s team has nine Grade 12, five of whom have played senior for Sodaro since Grade 10.
“Those two years of experience at senior, coming to provincials in Grade 10 and then in Grade 11, they know what it takes, they have seen other teams, we have watched them, we have been burned by them a bunch of times, lost a bunch of times and we just knew this was our year to get here,” the coach said.
The bronze medal game goes at 1 p.m. between Okanagan Mission and Claremont.