Semiahmoo Totems (left to right) Michael Dowhaniuk, Kyle Ealey, Blake Bradburn, Adam Paige, Tyler Eley and Jag Gill celebrate a point en route to repeating as B.C. AAA senior boys volleyball champs. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)
High School Boys Volleyball

Standing Totem tall: Semiahmoo celebrates its bumps in the road, reaps reward of repeat B.C. AAA title

LANGLEY — Michael Sapic is thrilled that his Semiahmoo Totems players are enjoying the sweet taste that comes with repeating as B.C. senior boys AAA volleyball champions.

Yet the longtime head coach, who made his return to the lead chair this season after formerly leading Totems boys and girls teams to top-four B.C. finishes, isn’t sugar-coating the fact that not every title-clinching run is filled with start-to-finish high-fives and campfire songs.

“In the end it was about how everyone believed in each other,” said Sapic, reflecting Monday on the events of this past Saturday as the Totems rallied against Cranbrook’s top-seeded Mt. Baker, beating the Wild 15-12 in the fifth-and-deciding set at an ear-splitting Langley Events Centre.

“But part of what went on this year is that our team has had so many different coaches each year,” continued Sapic, who had not coached a high school team since leading the Totems girls to the B.C. semifinals in 2009. “And then I came along. They weren’t used to doing the different kinds of things I did, and I think it made them uncomfortable. It was a fear of trying something new.”

Led by the play of tournament MVP Mike Dowhaniuk, the 6-foot-5 senior left side hitter, the Totems played their best volleyball of the season over their final four matches.

In the round of 16, they topped Kelowna 3-0 (25-21, 25-12, 25-16), beat Penticton 3-1 (25-19, 20-25, 25-10, 25-20) in the quarterfinals, then swept past crosstown rival Earl Marriott 3-0 (25-20, 25-10, 25-13) in the semifinals.

The way things began against Mt. Baker, the Totems looked immortal.

They led 2-0 (25-12, 25-22) and were going for a sweep before the Wild re-discovered the intensity which made them the province’s top-ranked team for the entire second half of the season.

“After we won the first two, Mt. Baker woke up,” said Sapic. “You couldn’t hear yourself think in there. It was so loud. But after we lost that fourth (set), I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it was a train’s headlight coming.”

Semiahmoo’s Jag Gill (blue) goes to the net in Saturday’s championship final match against Carnbrook’s Mt. Baker Wild. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures)

To Sapic, it was plain to see that momentum was no longer with his team. So instead of letting them come off the floor ahead of the tie-breaker, he kept them on the court and proceeded to do the only thing he felt would get them back on the tracks.

“I went right out onto the floor and I did the rah-rah, go bananas thing,” he said. “I told them to go and take it and then I pushed them back onto the floor before they even had to go, and it changed their mood.”

After falling 18-25 and 12-25, the came back in the fifth to win 15-12 and keep B.C.’s highest-tiered boys volleyball title in South Surrey.

“The problem when we get too emotionally high is sometimes we tend to crash,” said Sapic. “I just tried to recognize when that was happening. It was about trying to maintain the highs and then pick it up if it got too low.”

As far as reading his team’s emotional barometre, the coach got it right.

And there were so many triumphant stories within the Totems’ roster.

Dowhaniuk finished his high school career as the provincial MVP.

Sapic said his need for a setter was answered when he converted former left side Jag Gill into the team’s playmaker, a position in which over a three-month span he made incredible forward progress.

Adam Paige, the 6-foot-7 dual-sport star who has already begun his senior year with the basketball team, played a role befitting his physical stature, moving from his middle blocker spot and thriving as a ride-side hitter.

“When they all ganged up on Mike on the left side, we needed someone on the other side and Adam was a dream kid,” said Sapic.

The coach had a story to tell about virtually every player on the roster and it was hard to mistake the pride he had for their collective finish.

Yet again, he stressed that the happy ending was possible because the team was willing to confront its hurdles.

“At one point I said to them ‘If you want to find another guy…’” said Sapic about the fact that he offered his resignation if it was going to be in the best interest of the players’ season. “I meant it but I didn’t want to go. I wanted them to recognize that I wanted to help them. I was grasping at straws for ways to bring it all together.

“In the end, it’s so satisfying,” he concluded. “There is nothing better than winning the provincials.”

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