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Crusaders become giant killers in volleyball final

Within the gymnasium at Vanier Catholic Secondary there is a plaque above a door that reads: It isn't the hours you put in, it's what you put into the hours.

Within the gymnasium at Vanier Catholic Secondary there is a plaque above a door that reads: It isn’t the hours you put in, it’s what you put into the hours.

The Vanier Crusaders senior boys team put a lot into their hours to win the senior boys division of the Pepsi Volleyball Yukon Championships at Porter Creek Secondary on Saturday.

“We were definitely the underdogs, there’s no hiding from that,” said Crusaders head coach Jeremy Staveley. “There are nine guys here ... and they came to practice and worked and worked and worked. They might not have the same amount of experience as the other team, but they sure had the work ethic.”

Vanier defeated the F.H. Collins Warriors 25-23, 25-22 in the final for the title.

The Crusaders, who finished third in Whitehorse’s Super Volley league, weren’t the underdogs because they were weak, rather because the Warriors were so strong.

The loss prevented the Warriors from capturing the team’s first triple crown, having already won the Dawson Invitational Volleyball Tournament and the Super Volley title.

In fact, the loss was the Warriors’ only one since the start of the Super Volley season.

So what went wrong?

“I’m still trying to figure that out, actually,” said Warriors head coach Shaun McLoughlin the day after the loss. “I thought the guys were fairly calm to start, but as soon as Vanier started pressing a lot harder than they had all year - that was probably the best match I’ve seen Vanier play all year - it caught the guys off guard a bit. I don’t think they knew how to react.

“It was really the first time we’ve been pressed all year by a team up here. No matter how much we prepared for that in practice, the nerves just threw the guys off.”

The Warriors looked on their way to the title early on, taking a 13-6 lead in the first set. The Crusaders eventually moved to within two on a kill from power Zach Giczi followed by a block by Noah Kitchen to make it 22-20.

Then the wheels came off for the Warriors. Vanier tied the game 23-23 on two missed Warrior attacks and a line violation. A lifting violation and a botched Warrior attack ended the set.

It took five match-points for Vanier to complete the upset. Up 24-17, Vanier missed an attack, Warriors’ Tristan Sparks scored two points with big blocks, and Giczi missed a spike.

Giczi would make it up. At 24-22, after two big digs by libero Mustafa Syed, Giczi delivered one last kill. He was named tournament MVP.

“It feels great, I’m super glad,” said Giczi. “But I couldn’t have done it without my team. I wouldn’t have won MVP if I didn’t have Libero Mustafa passing up balls, everyone working hard to get balls up. I never would have won without my setter Louis (Kedziora), he played really well and got balls up to me every game - perfect sets.”

The win marked Vanier’s third straight Yukon senior boys title. Last year had a similar story with the Crusaders going winless in Super Volley before winning the championships in a barnburner against the Warriors.

“I don’t know how we pull it off every year, but Vanier always comes through the backdoor of every tournament,” said Crusaders captain Louis Kedziora. “We lose every game up to it and then we win the last championship. I’m surprised that every year we pull it off somehow.

“After Dawson we all just buckled down and the coach told us we really had to work our asses off to get this medal,” he added. “We all went to every practice and we just buckled down and put everything in and we got it.”

Vanier reached the final with a win over the Porter Creek Rams in the semifinal. Dawson’s Robert Service School Knights captured the bronze with a straight-set win over the Rams.

Giczi credited “a lot of hard work throughout the season” for the Crusaders’ triumph. “We practiced so hard, everyone showed up for practice every day. We worked really hard for it.

“We lost our first two games of the tournament and from then on our coach told us: next we’re undefeated, no balls hit the floor without someone diving.

“We went out there and just put all our hearts into it.”

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