Few gold medal wins are as long in the making as the one in the junior boys division at the Yukon Volleyball Championships on Saturday.
Dawson City’s Robert Service School Knights, who won gold, have been playing together since before they reached the high school level.
“We’ve known each other since we were six years old and we’ve never come apart from each other,” said Knights co-captain John Dagostin.
“We keep our hopes up together, we always push each other to achieve greater goals. That’s the benefit to this team, there’s only seven of us, but we’ve all known each other since we were kids.”
The Knights captured gold with a 22-25, 25-17, 15-7 come-from-behind win over the Porter Creek Rams in the gold medal game at F.H. Collins Secondary.
It wasn’t the team’s first gold medal. The same Knights team won gold in the Grade 8 division – with an all Grade 7 team – at the 2011 Yukon championships, which was the last time the Dawson school won a Yukon title.
The next year, in Grade 8, the team won silver in the junior boys division.
“You look out on the court, they know their positions and they play them well,” said Knights head coach Steve Laszlo. “They are friends on and off the court. After the game they’re not going off in every direction, they’re hanging out with each other. So they care for each other and they respect each other and they’re in it together. It’s a team thing and today they pulled together.”
The Knights came out really strong in the opening set of the final. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead, Dawson went on a nine-point run on the serve of Caleb Verdonk to go up 15-4. The Rams chipped away at the deficit and caught up at 22-22 with a crafty tip by Jon Amos followed by an unreturned serve from Amos. Rams’ Jarrett Peterson then put away back-to-back kills before teammate Robert Smallwood followed up with a kill of his own for the set.
“We tend to start a little slow,” said Rams head coach Tara Wardle. “We get a little nervous and get the best of ourselves … The more we talk the better we do, and unfortunately we were a little quiet out on the court today.”
The Knights got back on track in the second. They went on a five-point run on the serve of Dagostin to go up 8-1 and 10-3 on an ace from middle Zach Bartholomeus. Bartholomeus was named tournament MVP following the final.
“He’s got some big blocks, some timely hits and he really stepped up as a leader too,” said Laszlo. “It’s well deserving. He’s improved his game on and off the court.”
The Knights got to within arm’s reach of the second set on a service winner from Dagostin, who plays middle, at 23-14. They tied the match a set apiece on a kill from Will Connellan.
The Dawson crew took the lead for the final time at 3-2 in the third on a kill from Verdonk. They then went up 13-6 on a kill from co-captain John Kilpin before the Rams were called on a double hit and missed a serve to end the match.
“It’s special, it just doesn’t happen every day for Dawson,” said Laszlo. “We’ve come to the dance before, but we haven’t been able to close it. We were able to close today and it’s a good feeling.”
The team is feeling “pretty great,” said Dagostin. “It’s been a while. We got silver last year at the (Dawson Invitational Volleyball Tournament) and we hungered for gold at this tournament.”
The gold-winning Knights suffered just one loss at the championships, dropping a round robin game to the F.H. Collins Warriors, who went on to take bronze.
Surprisingly, before the playoffs, the Rams went winless in four matches in the round robin.
“We didn’t play well in the round robin at all,” said Wardle. “We’ve lost a number of players in the last week … It took us the round robin to find our chemistry again with the six out on the court.”
The junior boys gold was one of three medals won by the Robert Service School Knights at this year’s championships. The Knights also won bronze in the junior girls and the senior girls divisions.
Dawson also entered a Grade 9 team in the junior boys division that lost in the quarterfinal to fourth place’s Vanier Crusaders.
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