By Dale Cory
It’s been a good week for the Ponoka Composite High School volleyball program.
Both the boys’ and girls’ teams have qualified for Alberta Schools Athletic Association 3A volleyball provincials.
For the boys’ team, news of a trip to provincials came as a bit of a surprise.
Broncs boys in Camrose
The PCHS boys’ volleyball team is off to Westlock Nov. 24 to compete in the 12-team 3A championships after grabbing the wildcard spot during the central zone playoffs — a five-team tournament Nov. 19 and 20 in Camrose.
“I’ve been with these boys since Grade 7; it’s been a goal since then to qualify for provincials in their senior year,” says head coach Chris Noble. “Nine of our 11 players are in their Grade 12 year. We’ve got some stability, and some commitment from the players who have been there that long.”
Ponoka finished the round robin at zones with wins over Lacombe, Wetaskiwin, and Central Alberta Christian High School (CACHS), and a loss to the host Camrose squad.
After eliminating CACHS in straight sets in the semifinal, the Broncs found themselves up against Camrose in the zone final. Ponoka put up a valiant effort, but still went down in straight sets — giving Camrose a spot in provincials.
But the story — or the season — didn’t end there.
Noble and assistant coach Mark Richter had a surprise for the players, who were unaware during the two-and-a-half month volleyball season that a wildcard spot had been offered to the zone — meaning two teams would qualify for provincials.
“We told them after they were awarded their silver medals. They were hanging their heads, and we took them to a school hallway and informed them they had indeed qualified for provincials. We purposely did not tell them earlier because we wanted to have them learn to play with stress, with commitment, and with a desire to win,” explained Noble. “Their reaction was disbelief. They thought I was messing with them and making it up — until I gave them the documentation that showed the outline of the teams that qualify for the championship tournament. I’m sure that gift rivals Christmas morning.”
Coach Noble says Colin Horan and Matt Noble led the team throughout the weekend with their solid play and leadership, and were the driving force in the team’s quest for a spot in provincials. Now the players can focus their attention on facing the best teams in the province — and hopefully, another shot at Camrose.
“Our expectations are to enjoy the show — and play the games. I would much rather go in as the underdog,” says Noble. “We want to have a relaxed approach to the tournament that will hopefully lead us to success.”
Ponoka Composite High School will play its first game in the 3A boys’ provincial volleyball tournament Nov. 25, with the championship game set for Nov. 27.
Broncs girls in Sylvan Lake
Ponoka Composite High School has also qualified for the girls’ 3A provincial championships in Lloydminster Nov. 25 to 27.
The Broncs girls took part in zone playdowns Nov. 19 and 20 in Sylvan Lake, and, like the boys’ team, came away with a wildcard spot heading into provincials.
During the round robin, Ponoka finished first in its pool after beating Innisfail 25-8 and 25-17, Wetaskiwin 25-11 and 25-18 and CACHS 25-21 and 25-14.
In its semifinal match-up with Innisfail, the Broncs were once again victorious, beating the Cyclones 25-20 and 25-11.
That set up a championship game featuring the league’s top combatants — Ponoka and Sylvan Lake.
The host team took the first set 25-20, but Ponoka battled back and grabbed the second set 25-23. In the third and decisive set, Ponoka held an 8-1 advantage before the teams switched ends. But Sylvan Lake went on a tear, and took the final set 15-13 to claim the zone championship, and a spot in provincials.
“Our goal from the very start of the season was to get to the zone final. Provincials was always in the future, but the first step was to get to that final,” says head coach Joely Hanke. “The girls have worked very hard for the past three months and deserve this second chance at redemption at provincials. Not only will they want to beat Sylvan Lake, but ultimately take the home some hardware. Or, bring back to Ponoka a provincial banner.”
While it’s never easy singling out players, Hanke pointed to a few players who helped Ponoka grab the silver medal at zones.
“Jacee DeVries’ passing and defence in the final proved that she was not going to give up on any ball. I think one rally she dug six balls in a row. You could tell her heart and soul was in it for sure. Setter Victoria Rose stepped up to the plate as a senior player. I have never seen her play better defence in my career as a coach with her,” says Hanke. “And both Jenica Krause and Breanne Emes proved their role on the team as how hungry they were for every contact, every block, and every hustle.
“I am very proud of how every single one of the girls played.”
The Broncs leave Wednesday for provincials at Holy Rosary High School in Lloydminster. They will play round robin games Thursday and Friday. The top three in the pools move on to quarter-finals Saturday, with the title game Saturday evening.