Where does one start in describing the season the Vanier Crusaders senior teams have had?
Both went undefeated in the Super Volley regular season before winning the Super Volley championships.
Both won their divisions at the Dawson City Invitational last month.
And now, completing the triple crown of Whitehorse high school volleyball, both won the senior divisions at the Yukon Volleyball Championships at the Canada Games Centre on Saturday. In fact, neither team lost a match in the Yukon all season long.
For the boys team in particular, it was a long time in the making.
“I’m just really proud of these guys,” said Crusader boys head coach Russ Tait. “I’ve been working with them since – some from Grade 6, the rest from Grade 8 pretty much. And it’s just great to have their whole season finish off this way to not lose a match in the Yukon. I think they lost just two sets the whole season in the Yukon.
“They’re an awesome set of kids who have been working really hard.”
The Crusaders boys closed the books on their unblemished season with a 25-14, 25-21, 25-19 win over the Porter Creek Rams in the championship final.
It was a real team effort in the match, with eight of the 12 players registering kills. Power hitter Justin Dragoman led the team with nine, while Mike Hunter hit eight, Mason Gray six and Albert Spycher and Travis Pumphrey both four. Even the aces were spread out with Spycher, Gray and captain Lowell Tait each producing one while Hunter got two.
“This is a real accomplishment for them,” said Tait. “It’s been a long time since a team dominated on the men’s side the way these guys have.”
Though the final two sets were won on Ram mistakes – first a carrying call and then a missed spike – the Crusaders reached set-points with their power game. Kill-leader Dragoman, who was named a tournament All-Star, used his lightning kills to win the first set, get set-point in the second and then make it 23-19 and 24-19 in the third.
“It was a really good game; Porter Creek played great,” said Dragoman, who is originally from Dawson. “Everyone played great. It was a good, heated game.”
“It was Vanier’s game to win. They had to win that game,” said Rams head coach Mike Kelly. “We went in with not much pressure, so we just tried to play within our abilities. We tried to keep our spirits high, a positive atmosphere on the bench and on the court, and I think we did those things really well.
“The result isn’t what we wanted, but we’re not left with a really bad taste in our mouths.”
Grey, a longtime member of the Crusaders program who delivered the most winning points from the service line, was named tournament MVP.
“For most of his years, from Grade 8 up, he was a bench player,” said Tait. “He was playing behind someone. But he always worked hard on his technique and this summer came into his own. For me, he’s always there, always committed, always on time and he’s really turned into a dynamic, versatile player. He could play at any school, given his versatility.”
The Crusaders, which include six former Team Yukon players, also had success Outside the territory. Playing in a tournament in Red Deer, the Crusaders defeated the then No. 3 and No. 4 ranked teams. The No. 3 team, Bev Facey Community High, went on to finish second at the Alberta Provincial championships over the weekend.
The FH Collins Warriors took third in the division with a straight-set win over Haines Junction’s St. Elias Eagles.
Rams push Crusaders to fourth set
Despite suffering the most lopsided loss in the second set the team had taken all season in Super Volley, the Crusader senior girls regained control to defeat the Porter Creek Rams 25-20, 6-25, 25-16, 26-24 in the final.
“The nice thing is this team is so experienced and so mature that even after that blowout, I know I wasn’t panicked and I don’t think any of the girls were either,” said Crusaders head coach Kelly Bukowski.
“Porter Creek is a really good team and we knew going into the tournament we’d have to bring our ‘A’ game every time, and if you have a bad set, they’re going to make you pay for it every time. They certainly did in the second set.”
“We relaxed, I think,” said Crusaders hitter and tournament All-Star Erika New. “We’re both tired, we’re both playing and whoever steps up will get the game.”
So how do you recover from losing a set by 19 points?
“I was glad when it was over,” said Bukowski of the second set. “It gets to the point where it’s quite obvious what the outcome is going to be, however, you have to build up as much momentum as possible. We played Porter Creek the night before and they beat us in the second set as well, but we gained momentum at the end of the second set and carried it over to the third.”
Not only did the fourth set go into extra points, the Rams reached set-point, up 24-23.
Down 23-22, the Crusaders tied the score on a beautiful diving save from captain Robyn Fortune that somehow found the floor on the Rams’ side of the net. Crusaders’ Sam Henney gave Porter Creek set-point on a missed spike, but the Rams failed to capitalize.
Tournament MVP Kelcey Smeeton then knocked a spike through the hands of a Rams’ blocker for match point before another missed kill attempt from the Rams ended the match. Smeeton, a power hitter and former Team Yukon player, was also named the Super Volley season MVP as well.
“I’m really proud of her,” said New. “I know she’s going to kill every set (she’s given).”
Win or lose, it was exciting to be a part of, said Rams head coach Jordan Borgford.
“It was a great match. People should have had to pay $20 to come in and watch,” said Borgford. “I thought both teams played really well.
“The second set was a little bit goofy. We played really well, Vanier just made some uncharacteristic mistakes. But I’m glad we showed up and played really well for two sets.”
In the battle for bronze the FH Collins Warriors went over the St. Elias Eagles in two sets.
Girls tournament All-Stars
Robyn Fortune (VCSS)
Erika New (VCSS)
Courtney Greenway (PCSS)
Kiana Palamar (PCSS)
Corey Baxter (FHC)
Brittney Brown (St. Elias)
MVP Kelsey Smeeton (VCSS)
Boys tournament All-Stars
Kieran Small (FHC)
Axel Reimer (RSS)
Brady Bonnycastle (PCSS)
Lowell Tait (VCSS)
Justin Dragoman (VCSS)
Josh Kelly (PCSS)
MVP Mason Grey (VCSS)
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