Despite being a small rural club, drawing from players out of St Paul (3), Mallaig (2), Bonnyville (6), and Cold Lake (2), our local ladies U18 Rhinos volleyball club made a lot of noise at the recent Provincial championships in Okotoks, April 28th & 29th.
Coach Troy Gratton said a forth place finish was huge for the club, “competing against the biggest clubs throughout the province (ex U18 U of A Pandas, U18 Calgary Dinos, U18 Red Deer Queens, U18 Nait Ooks etc.) who can draw from a significantly larger population base, our local ladies Rhinos went on a Rampage and did some serious damage.”
The ladies started off a little slowly by losing our first match against Taber (Wham 18) 25-16, 25-9. Despite the poor start the ladies regrouped and won the rest of their pool play matches.
Tied for first in pool play, the girls finished 2nd after the tie breaker setting up a big cross over match against the heavily favoured U18 Pandas (U of A affiliated club). “Despite odds being heavily against the ladies, the girls played their hearts out,” this was amazing to witness, said the coach. Even after being down 24-22 in the first set, the girls found a way to claw their way back to tie it up 24-24.
Back and forth it went until the ladies managed a huge upset win at 29-27. This set up a do or die for the Pandas. Once again the ladies managed to keep the game close with superb defence, by being very consistent at the service line, and hammering away on offense.
“As the game approached the end, the Pandas seemed to tense up knowing the Rhinos were not going to go quietly,” the coach was proud of how hard the girls fought for the win. The Rhinos were down 22-20, but somehow managed to fight back to take the lead winning 25-23.
This huge win set up a guaranteed top 8 finish.
Despite a huge emotional victory, the girls were ready to take on a very strong U18 Nooks squad (affiliate of Nait). “In the first set the Ooks seemed to dominate. They easily took game one 25-19. Our ladies fought hard but could not seem to beat a very strong defensive squad in the first set,” the coach recalled.
“Despite the season being on the line, our girls fought back hard taking set two setting up the all important 3 game,” explained Gratton.” In game 3 we started out poorly. At one point we were down 10-5 and 11-6. Somehow our girls showed incredible resolve and never doubted their ability to come back and managed a monumental come from behind 19-17 win to guarantee a top four finish.”
In the semis, the ladies played the number two ranked seed in the tournament and never seemed to find their groove.
“They seemed a little flat and never could keep it close. We ended up going down two straight ending the magical run.” Coach said in the bronze medal match they played NAVC Griffins (Grant McEwan affiliate) and “seemed to have a little more life back in our game”.
“We kept it close both sets coming from being down to tie both games 23-23 to give ourselves a chance to win,” said Gratton. Unfortunately despite a consistent attack, great defence and consistent serving, they were not able to close it out losing 23-25 and 24-26.
“It was a tournament for the ages and the girls played inspired volleyball. It was great to see them finally play to their potential given inconsistent play most of the season.”
It was also great to see the support we were getting from all the various clubs as well. Everybody seemed to be talking about the Rhinos (not even knowing where we were from) and everyone wishing us the best Out of 38 teams in the province it was such a great accomplishment to finish in the top four.