LANGLEY — There were more than a few sage experts who felt that Surrey’s ‘Little Team That Could’ would be in for a real battle just to qualify for the Big Kahuna B.C. Boys Triple A volleyball championships, which opened Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.
“All season long we go out there with our eight-man team and the other teams have just looked at us and figured it’s in the bag,” Luke Wagner explained of the expressions his underdog Elgin Park Orcas have drawn from the opposition.
“But we just go out there and play with all of our hearts.”
On Thursday, all of that was good enough to not only beat Kelowna’s Mt. Boucherie Bears 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 26-24) in the Sweet 16 round, but to also propel the Orcas into the event’s Final 8 and a date at 9 a.m. Friday against B.C.’s No. 1-ranked team, Mt. Baker of Cranbrook.
The Wild got a push from Victoria’s Reynolds Roadrunners in another Sweet 16 matchup, prevailing 3-1 (25-22, 23-25, 25-19, 25-17).
Of course Friday’s match will only magnify Elgin Park’s underdog status, but the squad which quite famously has been allowed to coach itself, has learned to celebrate it’s victories one match at a time.
“It makes it so satisfying because everyone has worked extra hard, and the coaches giving us the freedom to run our practices has really given us a chance to share our voice,” said senior Luke Stroud, the team’s emotional heart-and-soul, who missed his teammates last season when his family made a one-year move to California.
The Orcas, who lost to the Delta Pacers in the semifinals of the recent Fraser Valley championships, and then to crosstown rival Semiahmoo in the Valley’s bronze medal final, showed that the tough road against two of the province’s top teams helped make them a battle-tested entity.
The Orcas won their pool when the B.C. tourney opened Wednesday, no small accomplishment and one which helped them enhance their place in the championship draw Thursday.
Still, Okanagan No. 2 Mt. Boucherie never underestimated them, and that’s why Elgin Park’s quick start proved so essential in what wound up being a three-set sweep.
“We are a very emotional team and we run through extreme highs and lows,” admitted Stroud. “So one thing we have tried to work on is our emotional consistency.”
Things had begun to go a little south for the Orcas in the third set.
They had not trailed at any point until midway through that stanza when the Bears took an 11-10 lead, and built on it down the stretch drive.
“We were starting to get a little in-our-heads,” added Stroud. “So we gathered everyone together and said that we play our best when we’re having fun and not worrying about any mistakes we might have made.”
To be clear, the Orcas did show up at the provincials with a pair coaches.
Melissa Bonn, Elgin’s school librarian, was there to guide them throughout the year, and Trish Wagner came up from the school’s JV team to co-coach with Bonn at the provincials.
If Thursday’s match proved anything to the pair, it’s that their brand of personal empowerment can succeed even on the level of Sweet 16 B.C. boys AAA match.
“The maturity of these guys has been exceptional,” said Wagner of the senior team, whose ranks include her son Luke. “(Mt. Boucherie’s) No. 5, their middle, he played exceptional. We made more errors and had fewer kills in that third set than the first two, but we won. And the reason was because of our leadership.”
Said Bonn, the school’s librarian who had earlier stepped up to coach the team because it would have folded if she hadn’t: “They were engaged right off the get-go and they kept it together the whole game. Our guys were so chatty. They just kept reinforcing each other.”
Andy Barrero led the winner with 12 kills, helping to hold off a slew of third-set kills from the Bears’ determined Grade 11 Cameron Powell. Luke Wagner added eight kills.
“What we see most of all is the incredible synergistic play that they have,” said Trish Wagner. “They play so well together, they call the plays together they take responsibility each time for each other.
“It’s a pleasure to watch,” she added. “I have coached for over 30 years and I never seen anything like this.”
Of course come Friday morning, the Orcas will wake up as underdogs again.
Mt. Baker is the favourite and perhaps this is where Elgin Park’s journey on the championship side of the draw ends.
Yet you know they aren’t just an ordinary team when you ask Elgin Park’s outstanding senior setter Kyle Buhrig about what it means to face B.C.’s No. 1-ranked team.
“Last year we got here, but we finished 17th,” he begins. “Honestly, we’ve come a long ways. So really, we are honoured that we get a chance to play the No. 1 team.”
I know, right?
Semifinals for the boys AAA draw happen at 8 p.m. Friday with the championship match beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Boys Double A semifinals begin 4:45 p.m. Friday with the final beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The girls AAAA draw has quarterfinals happening Friday at 4:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. On Saturday, semifinals run at 9 a.m., followed by the championship final at 3 p.m.
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