Langley Christian rallies for first AA volleyball title
Two points away from seeing their championship dreams dashed in the provincial semifinal, the Langley Christian Lightning came through in the clutch.
The Lightning senior boys’ volleyball was down 13-9 against the Okanagan Mission Huskies in a match tied at two sets apiece. The winner would advance to the AA provincial gold medal game while the loser would be relegated to the bronze medal match.
The tournament was held at the UBC Okanagan campus in Kelowna.
And Langley Christian delivered, rattling off the next six points to stun their opponent.
“We battled hard and learned that if we believe in ourselves, we can overcome any obstacles,” said coach Aaron VandenBrink.
The Lightning capped off the weekend with a five-set victory over the Duchess Park Condors in the gold medal game on Saturday to claim the title, the first in school history for the senior boys program at the AA level. Langley Christian did win the Single A title back in 2004.
Since moving to the AA level, Langley Christian has won five medals in the past seven years (one gold, one silver and five bronze).
In the decisive set, Langley Christian was down 8-7 but ran off the final eight points, including a huge solo block from Jeremy Hansma to end the match.
“Winning a game in a fifth set may require a little bit of coaching, strategy and technique, but when it comes down to the wire, heart is what wins championships and every one of our athletes left theirs out on the court this weekend,” VandenBrink said.
In pool play, Langley Christian defeated Pacific Christian 2-0, Duchess Park 2-1 and MEI 2-0.
They knocked off Cambie 3-0 in the quarter-finals before rallying for back-to-back five-set victories in the semifinals and finals, respectively.
The victory against MEI avenged a loss in the Fraser Valley finals a few weeks ago.
Following that defeat, assistant coach Jesse Zuidhof said the team worked their mental game, how to react to errors and remaining optimistic.
“That made a big difference in how we approached each game, how we prepared and how we stayed focused mentally on the court as well,” he said.
This was the fourth time the Lightning played Duchess Park, and marked the third straight win for the local team. All four games went to a deciding set.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Zuidhof said.
“The difference was, when it counted, we made big plays in the end and played to win, not to lose.”
Prior to the championships, Zuidhof said the coaching staff told the players to focus on three things: playing for their Creator, their teammates and the thrill of competition.
He also said the gold medal belongs to everyone who has helped the team over the years.
“A lot of people have put in a lot of time over the years,” he explained.
“It is a gold for everyone, for the whole community who has put in a lot of time and effort to get these boys to where they are.”
Eli Tolkamp earned most valuable player honours, while Braden Heppell was a first team all-star selection and Mike Grypma was on the second team. Both Carson Heppell and Mitchell Jarvie were honourable mentions, while Mark Antoniuk was named most outstanding libero.
This is the third year in a row Antoniuk has won the award at provincials.
He called the award a bonus to his team getting the ultimate prize.
“All of those hours of training and practising, and we finally get the championship,” he said.
Tolkamp said that once the team had survived the semifinal scare, they knew the title was within their grasp.
“Once we got to the finals, we knew it was ours for the taking,” he said.
As for the MVP award, Tolkamp knew that if he was on top of his game, it would be a benefit to his teammates.
The Langley Fundamental Titans placed seventh at the AA provincial tournament, earning the most sportsmanlike award.