The final point played out in a felicitous way. It was a fitting end to a team that was a decade in the making.
The Yukon men’s volleyball team cruised to a second straight-set win over P.E.I. by a score of 25-12, 25-15, 25-13 at the Canada Summer Games on Wednesday.
The win marked the end of the Games for the team and put them 10th in front of P.E.I. in the final standings. It is the first time a Yukon volleyball team finished ahead of a province in Canada Games history.
At match point, co-captain Michael Hunter scooped up a shot from P.E.I. and got the ball to co-captain and setter Lowell Tait, who put it to middle Mason Gray for the final kill.
All three began playing together in Grade 6 and continued right up through high school, into the Arctic Winter Games, Western Canada Summer Games and now the Canada Summer Games.
The win produced an immediate high that was quickly followed by the sobering realization that it marked the end of the road for the team. After so many tournaments, spanning so many years, the team was over.
“It was a great moment. Bitter-sweet in a way,” said Tait, a little choked-up with emotion. “I’m proud of how it all settled. With the team being over, we’re all still going to be able to train kids and pass it on to them, hopefully pass it to the next generation … Hopefully we can have another team to come out and take down Newfoundland.
“I’m really pleased with how it ended. A huge thanks to my father, Russ, for putting in a lot of time with us. Since Grade 6 it has been flat-out volleyball … It’s been an awesome time and tonnes of fun experiences.
“It’s really emotional, but I’m really pleased with how it all ended.”
“I think it’s a great way to end it,” said Gray. “The team played great, had a really good tournament, and to go out with a win is really good.
“It’s tough knowing I won’t be able to play with these guys again.”
The team has worn the Yukon colours at numerous Games, but the same core group of guys started out at Holy Family in Whitehorse and eventually played as the Vanier Catholic Secondary Crusaders in high school.
“That’s what’s so rewarding, seeing those boys turn into young men,” said head coach Russ Tait, who also coached them at Vanier. “The Yukon should definitely be proud.”
Not every player was there from the start, but there have been some great additions. Right-side Albert Spycher – that’s right, pronounced “spiker” – had 10 kills in the final and led the team at the Games with a total of 61. He also had four aces on Wednesday.
“I started on the team in Grade 9,” said Spycher. “Russ picked me out. I was more of a basketball player. Russ got a hold of me and made me love volleyball.
“It’s unreal,” he added. “Maybe five or six years working towards this one moment. All the practices, all the tournaments we went to before, just building towards this one moment. It’s surreal.
“It was great watching Mason pound that ball straight to the ground – no touches. It just seemed like a fitting end for everything.”
Yukon had a great run at the Games. On Sunday they defeated P.E.I. 25-19, 25-20, 25-18 to become the first volleyball team from the territory – male or female – to defeat a province at a major Games.
A day later, the team was two points away from making it two in a row. Yukon narrowly lost 26-28, 26-24, 15-25, 25-23, 15-13 to Team Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Yukon team is arguably the greatest volleyball squad ever to come out of the territory.
Give or take a player or two, the team won Yukon’s first gold medal in 26 years at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games.
Many of the players were on Yukon’s U18 men’s rep volleyball team, Sub Zero, last year. That team won Tier 3 to place 17th overall out of 64 of the country’s best teams at the 2012 Canadian Open Volleyball Championships in Toronto. It was the highest a Yukon team has ever finished at the nationals in the U18 men division.
Four played for Team Yukon at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games in Kamloops, a squad that took sets off Saskatchewan and bronze-winning B.C.
Four players – Tait, Gray, Spycher and Hunter – competed at the post-secondary level last season.
“I’d like to thank everybody for the support we’ve had over the years,” said Spycher. “It’s a big financial commitment, as well as time, and I’d like to thank everybody in
Whitehorse who supported us.”
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