By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
The Alberta School’s Athletic Association provincial banner hung all weekend from the centre balcony at the Strathmore High School gymnasium like the briefcase at the WWE Money In The Bank Match, waiting for someone to seize the moment.
The host Strathmore High School Spartans played their final game of the season with the banner hanging in the distance. That was the closest they would get to touching what could have been the school’s first 3A provincial title in boys volleyball.
Sitting with a record of 2-3 entering their final round robin game against the top-ranked Morinville Community High School Wolves, the Spartans needed a win to force a tiebreaker to reach the playoffs.
Instead, the Wolves clipped the Spartans 21-25 in the first set and coasted to a 16-25 victory in the second set, ending the season for the Spartans.
“Our goal was to reach the playoffs, so we needed a win against Morinville, but we were a little over-matched,” said Spartans Head Coach Cole Hintz. “They are a very good team with experienced players and athletic kids. They were a difficult team to match up against.”
Of course, the Spartans wouldn’t have been in a must-win scenario if they didn’t let their final set on the second day of completion slip away from them.
The Spartans opened the tournament on a sour note, as they dropped their opener to the 12th ranked Magrath High School Zeniths 2-0 (20-25, 22-25), putting them behind the eight ball early.
The hosts bounced back on Nov. 24, as the Spartans squeaked out a victory against the Louis St. Laurent Barons after splitting the first two sets 25-21, 12-25. In the third, the Spartans opened up on an 8-1 run on a couple nice kills from Grade 10 student Daniel Mulder, finishing up 15-12.
Later in the afternoon the Spartans handled the St. Martin de Porres High School Kodiaks fairly easily. They led 14-2 in the first set and hung on to the 25-19 win, followed by a 25-18 victory in the second set.
Entering their third and final game of the day, a win would at least position them for a tiebreaker to decide who would qualify for the playoff round. The Spartans and Zeniths were tied with two wins, with the Wolves leading the way at 3-0.
“At that point we controlled our own destiny. A win would have at least given us a tiebreak, but it didn’t go our way,” said Hintz.
The Saints came out and took the first set from the Spartans, in what played out as one of the best matches of the tournament.
The Saints were relentless on defence: they dug up balls with their feet, pancaked hands, shoulders, fists – by any way necessary to keep the rally alive.
“It was really good volleyball both sides,” said Hintz. “Both teams did a really good job defending, which created some crazy rallies. We kept hitting the ball hard and they kept finding ways to dig it up.”
The Spartans battled back to take the second set 25-21, but couldn’t keep the momentum going against the Saints in the third set, who needed a win at 1-2 to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Bouncing back, the Saints stormed out to an 8-1 lead in the third set and coasted to the 7-15 victory.
“We should have won that game in two (sets),” said Caleb Wilchowy. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to and fell apart in the third set. That was the one game we should have won.”
When the Spartans arrived at their home gym the next morning, they knew they were faced with a tough task. In order to advance, they needed to knock off the top-ranked team and eventual silver medalist to force a tiebreak.
Following the straight-set loss, the Spartans playoff dreams were crushed.
“It’s hard to lose like that. It’s hard because I’ll never play this type of volleyball ever again,” said Wilchowy, a Grade 12 student.
Wilchowy is one of five seniors who donned the Spartan jersey for the final time. He suited up with Ben Cull, Colton Cordes, Ryan Edwards and Tomas Moncayo for one last go.
“Losing five Grade 12s is pretty average for us. We have always done a good job here of retooling and maintaining a solid level of performance throughout the years. Hopefully we have another good season next year,” said Hintz.
The early exit from provincials wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world for a few players on the team. Edwards and Wilchowy won’t have too much time off, as the senior boys basketball team starts play this weekend.