After spending the past four years playing volleyball with the Neelin Spartans high school squad and Storm club team, players like Kristine Ward, Amy Gordon, Alison Quiring, Jamie Campbell and Jael Unger are looking at creating one last great memory together.
Those five players, along with Neelin teammates Emma Ciprick and Tori Studler as well as Minnedosa’s Cassandra Cardy, are in Edmonton for the national club volleyball championships in what will be their final event together before they depart for their various university and college teams. Derek Richels, who coaches the 18U Storm, knows it could be an emotional weekend for all the players, but he said they’re determined to go out on a high.
"It’s the last kick at the can here," he said from Edmonton via telephone.
"Almost all of them are off to their post-secondary careers as soon as this weekend is done. I think for them, they want to play their best volleyball together here as a group for one last time. They’ve formed good relationships and they know each other so well that they have a goal that everyone is aware of that they want to do well out here."
The players have had a lot of success together, including a provincial AAAA high school varsity girls’ title in 2012 and a silver medal in 2013.
Despite playing with a small lineup this season, the Storm finished second at provincials and goes into the 18U girls’ national championship, which runs from today through Sunday, as the ninth seed in Division 1.
After dealing with some personnel issues during the early part of the season, Richels feels the Storm started playing their best at provincials and knows they will have to continue to do that this weekend if they’re going to accomplish their goal of a top-eight finish.
"When you get into the Division 1 game here at nationals, your serve-pass game has to be spot on or you can get into trouble in a hurry," he said. "As with any other national championship, you need a little bit of luck and a few bounces along the way, as I’ve learned, in order to claim the prize. You have to be playing well and things have to go your way to do well out here."
"It will be a good weekend," he continued. "We’re looking to play well. Nationals is always exciting, and we’re going to give it all we’ve got with what we’ve got and hopefully put a nice little cap to the end of the club season here."
Meanwhile, the Cats Volleyball Club will be in the 18U girls’ Division 2 event, while Big Bear will play in Division 3. The Storm will also be represented in the 17U tournament in Division 1, with the Cats playing in Division 2.
In the boys’ side of the draw, Team Extreme and Brandon Volleyball Club are in the 18U Division 2 competition, while BVC is the lone Westman team in the 17U tournament.
The BVC Golden Bears are in Abbotsford, B.C., this weekend for the 14U boys’ Canadian West Open. The Bears are ranked second in the tournament, which also runs from today to Sunday.