A close game between B.C. and Saskatchewan on centre court filled the volleyball complex with cheers and screams from fans. But it was in the smaller venue next door, with the bleachers half empty, where history was being written.
The Yukon men’s volleyball team became the first from the territory to defeat a province in Canada Summer Games history in Sherbrooke, Que., on Sunday.
It was a straight-set win, too, but by no means a blowout.
Yukon defeated Prince Edward Island 25-19, 25-20, 25-18 to become the first team from the territory to defeat a province in volleyball at a major Games, including the Western Canada Summer Games, male or female.
“It’s crazy,” said Yukon co-captain and libero Michael Hunter. “We’ve been together a long time and coming down here we didn’t really think we were going to take anyone, but we played well and when we saw (P.E.I.), we knew we could do it.
“We pushed hard and didn’t give up.”
“I’m just really happy with how we played against them – just really steady and made sure we played our game,” said Yukon co-captain and setter Lowell Tait. “Keeping our heads in it was the biggest thing. We’re a bunch of little guys, but we all have experience and we just played our game. Little things like serves, passing – if we could keep everything simple, we could pull it out.”
Yukon took early leads in each set and never trailed during the match. The team took the first set on a kill from Justin Dragoman, the only player from Dawson City.
Yukon snatched the second set on a big thunderbolt-esque spike from Mason Gray. Dragoman then capped the game with his eighth kill of the night.
Yukon right-side Albert Spycher, who delivered his team match point with a nifty tip, led the squad in kills with 10.
“Everyone played well,” said Hunter. “Lowell made good sets, Justin was pounding, Albert was doing well from the back row. Everyone did their part and that’s why we won, I think. No one had an off game.”
Yukon is now 1-3 at this week’s Games, opening with match-ups against a pair of powerhouses. Yukon lost 25-15, 25-11, 25-11 to Ontario and 25-10, 25-12, 25-12 to B.C. on Saturday. They then lost 25-16, 25-19, 25-14 to Saskatchewan early Sunday afternoon before the historic win.
P.E.I. was in the Yukon team’s crosshairs from the start. Head coach Russ Tait called it “our gold medal game,” earlier in the day.
“We’ve taken sets off provinces before at the (2011 Western Canada Summer Games) and I know at the last Canada Games (Yukon manager) Tory (Wiebe)’s team … took a set off Newfoundland, but nobody has ever won a match,” said Russ.
P.E.I. “is closer to our size,” he continued, “so when you’re not giving up eight inches it makes it real competitive. It’s a scrappy P.E.I. team.”
The Yukon squad will close out their pool’s round-robin with a match against Team Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday.
“We’ll stay positive, stay playing with a lot of energy and we’ll see what happens,” said Hunter. “We’ll try our best.”
The big win Sunday isn’t exactly out of nowhere.
Four players were on Yukon’s first gold winning team in 26 years at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games.
Six played for 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 nationals for the highest Yukon has ever finished at the nationals in the U18 men division.
Five 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.
There are also four players – Lowell, Grey, Hunter and Spycher – who played at the post-secondary level last season.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com