In the boxing classic Rocky II, Stallone’s character learns how to fight right-handed, only to switch back to his natural southpaw stance during the last round of his rematch against heavyweight champ Apollo Creed, catching the champ off guard.
The Porter Creek Rams showed some similar strategic sneakiness in the senior boys’ final of the Yukon Volleyball Championships on Saturday at the Canada Games Centre.
Assuming they would face the Vanier Crusaders, the Rams waited to the finals to unveil their starting lineup, eventually shimmying out a 25-18, 20-25, 16-14 win to take gold. During the round-robin portion of the tournament, the Rams, playing with jumbled lineups, lost to the Crusaders in straight sets, twice.
“We didn’t want to show them our hand, so we put people in different places,” said Rams head coach Mike Kelly. “We didn’t let them know what we were going to come out with today. I got good advice from last year’s senior coach (Sukh Sandhu) to not show them our hand. He told me he’s tried his Number 1 line-up in the round-robin and the other team figured it out.”
“We put out competitive line-ups all the time, and they beat us with those competitive line-ups, but we didn’t have people where they were going to start this game,” said Rams captain and tournament MVP Robin Smith. “We both knew we’d probably end up in the finals, just from how the whole year worked out.”
With Whitehorse’s other senior boys’ team, the FH Collins Warriors, going winless through the Super Volley season, the Rams and Crusaders have been battling tooth-and-nail for supremacy, and there has not been any clear winner until, perhaps, this past weekend. The two teams split the two previous big competitions, with the Crusaders winning the Dawson Invitational and the Rams winning the Super Volley Championships. They even split their regular season games, both in five sets.
“We knew this was going to be a close game and it’s the game we most anticipate through the year,” said Kelly. “When we started out, everything was going for us, we had a nice lead – the first set was pretty comfortable. The second set Vanier figured out a way to fight back and edge us out.
“In between the second and third set, the guys knew they’d sacrifice themselves, do whatever it takes to win the third set. In the end we made really good decisions, we left balls when they were going out, we played good defence and didn’t let their big attacks affect us. We just attacked right back.”
The Rams moved within striking range of capturing the opening set with Smith capping a long rally with a back-row kill for set-point. A point later, Crusader All-Star Michael Hunter sent a spike just wide to give the Rams the set.
However, Hunter was back in firing mode to end the second, giving the Crusaders set-point with a kill before teammate Charlie Kedziora put a tip over the Rams’ blockers to tie the match.
Tied 13-13 in the third, Ram Brad Gustafson went crosscourt for his second kill of the final, to give his team match-point. Missing their chance for a picturesque win, captain Smith sent a spike long, prolonging the match. Kedziora then put a serve just long before second-string setter Mason Grey, dealing with a broken play, sent the Crusaders’ third touch long.
“Congrats to Porter Creek,” said Crusaders head coach Russ Tait. “Like I’ve said at all three championships, I’m proud of the way the boys played. To be 16-14 in the third, you can’t ask for more than that.”
The Crusaders played the entire championships without their staring setter, Lowell Tait, who fractured a bone in his hand during the Super Volleys finals on November 19.
“Mason did a wonderful job,” said Tait. “It’s such a difficult thing to do and he did a real good job for us.”
While the Crusaders ended with silver, it still seems appropriate to designate them as the team to beat next season. With captain Henry Kedziora being the only Grade 12 player on the squad, the rest of the team will be eligible to return next year. The Rams, on the other hand, had only one Grade 11 player in their staring line-up.
“It was a good game, one of our best this season,” said Smith. “I’m glad the finals went to three. Our best set was the first, theirs was the second.
“The first set we came out and we were ready to go, we were well prepared. In the second set we were satisfied with what we did (in the first) and we didn’t come out and do the same thing.”
Tournament MVP Smith led his team with nine kills while teammates Josh Kelly and Jeremy Mann had seven and five respectably. For the Crusaders, Albert Spycher produced six kills, starting in the second set, while Hunter had six and Henry Kedziora had five.
“It’s been awesome having Robin on the team,” said Kelly. “Every practice he leads us. It’s not just his skills, it’s his attitude. He won’t take second best from his teammates and it raises us up every practice to his level.
“I was really impressed with the whole team this whole tournament.”
In the battle of bronze, the Dawson’s Robert Service School Knights, led by All-Star Justin Dragoman, took a two-set win over the fourth place Warriors.
Boys’ All-Star Team
Jeremy Mann (Rams)
Mason Gray (Crusaders)
Michael Hunter (Crusaders)
Albert Spycher (Crusaders)
Justin Dragoman (Knights)
Tanner Coyne (Warriors)
MVP Robin Smith (Rams)
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