None of the Yukon’s junior male volleyball players were even close to being born the last time the territory won gold at the Arctic Winter Games.
After winning silver in 2010, the Yukon did one better to win gold in Arctic Winter Games junior male volleyball at the Canada Games Centre on Friday. It is the first time since the 1986 Games the Yukon has won the junior male volleyball competition.
“It’s crazy. Our team did really well together,” said Yukon captain Mike Hunter. “We had a little bit of a slow start but then we pulled it out. It’s a good feeling. We worked hard for it.”
For the gold, the Yukon defeated Alberta North 25-22, 25-19, 25-20. The Yukon lost in the final to Alberta North at the previous Games in Grande Prairie, Alta.
The home team was the heavy favourite going into the final. Leading up to the gold medal game, the Yukon won 11 straight matches and 23 consecutive sets, not dropping one in the tournament.
However, the Yukon squad found themselves down 17-10 in the opening set.
“A lot of the guys on the team were kind of nervous,” said Hunter. “There was a big home crowd. Once we got rolling, we started playing our game, so we pulled through.
“I think we pass well and that allows us to run our offence. I think we have a bit better passing than Alberta and that’s why we won.”
“We were a little jittery, a little nervous and I could tell our passes weren’t on. We were hitting out of bounds, missing serves,” said Yukon head coach Shaun McLoughlin. “Once we loosened up, we went back to our style of play and took control.”
Trailing in the first set, the Yukon began to find its groove with some kills from right-side Albert Spycher. A big jump-serve from Spycher tied game 19-19. An ace from Spycher and two blocks from Henry Kedziora put the Yukon up 21-19.
The Yukon’s Mason Gray put a spike off Alberta-blockers for the set. Gray would later give the Yukon match-point with a kill and Spycher closed the match with – fittingly – another kill.
“I was pretty nervous coming into it,” said McLoughlin. “I knew Alberta watched us. They are a smart team, they have a good coach, they were scouting us heavily and charting our players. And I knew they were trying to figure out a strategy to beat us.
“But we never changed our game plan, even knowing that they were trying to get things together. We knew we were the team to beat and if they wanted to beat us, they’d have to play our game.”
Spycher ended the final with 12 kills, earning a 73 per cent in play efficiency rating. He also had one ace.
“Albert Spycher was incredible,” said McLoughlin. “He was completely dominant. No team had an answer to him. I believe he led the tournament in aces. He was one of the tournament leaders in kills, he was one of the tournament leaders in blocks. He was just an all-around dominant player.”
Gray was second in kills with nine and Kedziora had four. Yukon setter Jeremy Mann produced 29 assists in the final.
“He’s been setting well all tournament and he’s a really steady player,” said Hunter of Mann.
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