SURREY — When the 2019 B.C. senior girls volleyball season opened back in September, the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers knew they had every ingredient necessary to produce a winning recipe.
More importantly, however, they knew that the actual measures of those ingredients wouldn’t be determined without a heaping helping of regular-season trial-and-error, and that if all went well, a classic main course would reveal itself on the eve of the post-season.
The biggest challenge in this so-called volleyball test kitchen?
As strange as it might seem, none of incoming class of seven Grade 11 players had ever played with any of the class of five Grade 12s.
Yet as it opened the South Fraser zone championships Tuesday evening at Semiahmoo Secondary with a 3-0 (25-12, 25-16, 25-13) quarterfinal win over the crosstown Fleetwood Park Dragons, Lord Tweedsmuir was looking like the kind of team which had refined every dash, dollop, pinch and smidgen of its process.
Freshly-minted at No. 1 atop the province’s largest tier — Quad A — after winning the recent Red Serge Classic in Port Coquitlam, head coach Sarah Corneil reflected on the fact that although the team had reached the championship final of all five of the invitational tournaments it had entered this season, the efficiency with which they had begun the campaign was a clear indicator that their refinement would be a work in progress.
“It hadn’t been smooth, even though we kept making it to the finals,” began Corneil, who coaches the team along with Brian Boles, Mike Eckert and Abby Mitro. “It was not always necessarily with great volleyball, but more sheer athleticism and individual efforts.”
A win at the season-opening Seaquam Icebreaker, a loss in the finals to Surrey’s Pacific Academy Breakers at the Trinity Western Spartans Invitational, and then a loss to Vancouver’s Lord Byng Grey Ghosts in the final of the Douglas College Royals Classic in New Westminster was the tale of the first three tournaments.
The Panthers, however, beat Langley Fundamental in the finals of the Seaquam’s Pink Ribbon Classic, then followed that with its full three-set win over Pacific Academy in the finals of the Red Serge.
There, Tweedsmuir beat Victoria’s Claremont Spartans 2-0 (25-17, 25-21) in the quarterfinals, and the Kelowna Owls 2-1 (25-15, 26-28, 15-4) in the semifinals, before topping Pacific Academy, its Surrey rivals, 27-25, 28-30, 15-12, in what was an epic final between two great teams.
Afterwards, 6-foot-2 senior middle Ellie Sinclair was picked the tournament MVP while 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter Alysha Goundrey was named to the tournament’s all-star team.
“We’ve come through a transition where the girls trust each other and play as a unit,” said Corneil. “The biggest thing has been their connection. (At Red Serge) it wouldn’t matter if we were up by five or down by five, the emotional flow and the support they had for each other was consistent, and so we never got tense.”
The current Grade 12s, while competing for the Raincity Volleyball Club, won provincials in their Under-13 and Under-16 seasons, before losing in the Under-17 finals. As well, last season, they were part of the senior varsity Panthers which lost to Victoria’s Belmont Bulldogs in the B.C. Quad-A Final Four, settling for bronze after a win over Burnaby’s Moscrop Panthers.
The current Grade 11s placed second last season at the B.C.junior varsity championship tournament.
Sinclair, Goundrey and 5-foot-6 senior setter Bailey Dorohoy have been a trio of Grade 12 stalwarts in their final season, shaping the team’s image through their collective will.
“Ellie is one of the most dominant middles in the province,” said Corneil of Sinclair, who joins a Fraser Valley Cascades program set to make its U Sports debut next season. “And then the three of them collectively have worked really hard at cultivating the team culture and what they want in their final year of high school volleyball. They have done a great job of getting buy-in from the Grade 11s.”
At last season’s high school provincials, Dorohoy was named a first-team all-star, Goundrey a second-team all-star and Sinclair an honourable mention.
Brooklyn Deol, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, and Sophie Campbell, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter, are two of the team’s other seniors.
The Grade 11 core includes Maggie Maskiewich, Ciara Smith, Krystal Eng, Katherine Eckert, Mikayla Braun, Abby Sinclair and Sydney Wright.
Coming off last season’s B.C. Quad-A senior boys basketball championship, the Tweedsmuir athletic program has just continued to shine through the fall season.
Panthers’ football faces New Westminster in a massive Subway Bowl Triple-A quarterfinal clash Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium, and the girls volleyball team would like to carve out a similar post-season path, including a return to the provincials which this season run Nov. 28-30 at the Langley Events Centre.
To that end, Corneil is thankful for the huge assists her program has received from the school’s athletic department infrastructure.
“Jeni Robinson has been instrumental in growing the sport in our community and school,” says Corneil of the Tweedsmuir’s P.E. department head who not only coaches the Panthers’ girls JV and Grade 8 teams, but also plays a guiding role with the Raincity club program.
“But we also get so much support from our athletic directors,” she says of Mike Mitro and Brien Gemmell. “They take care of all the details, and that allows the community coaches to just come in and coach.”
Sound like they, as well, are ingredients vital to that aforementioned winning recipe, the one which has been refined right down to the last dash, dollop, pinch and smidgen.
“We’re super-proud of how all of the girls have bought in,” Corneil adds. “Everything we’ve told them, it’s now all coming together, and it’s so great and so validating to see them being rewarded.”
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