It was easy as one, two, three for the Bellerose Bulldogs to sweep the St. Albert Skyhawks in division two senior men’s volleyball.
With second place on the line, the Bulldogs dispatched the Skyhawks 25-18, 25-23, 25-16 in just over an hour at Bellerose Composite High School.
“We were pretty solid throughout the whole thing,” said setter Jackson Cadger, a Grade 11 Bulldog. “Our hitting and blocking was pretty good in this game than in a lot of our other games.”
The Bulldogs are 9-1 (28 GW/8 GL) entering Wednesday’s quarter-finals and the Skyhawks are 7-2 (23 GW/12 GL) with one match remaining.
The semifinals are Nov. 6 and the odds are high the Bulldogs will host the Skyhawks for a berth in the Nov. 7 final at Jasper Place High School.
“This momentum will be pretty good for us going into the playoffs,” Cadger said.
The Skyhawks were talking rematch after the Battle of St. Albert ended sooner than expected for the visitors.
“We want to win a championship this year. We’re going for the banner. This is the best team we’ve had in a while so we’re really looking forward to seeing them again. We love playing against teams that will challenge us and they’re a good team,” said libero Justin Akkerman, a Grade 12 Skyhawk.
The last volleyball title for both senior teams was before the merger of the Edmonton metro and public leagues in 2013. The Skyhawks were victorious in 2012 in the city conference and the Bulldogs are anxious to capture their first banner since the 2002 city championship with a return trip to the final after finishing second last year in four sets to the Paul Kane Blues.
“Last year was really disappointing because we went through to the final only to lose to Paul Kane but this year without Paul Kane here (in division two) we’re pretty excited,” said Cadger, one of six returnees from 7-3 finalists.
The team to beat in the playoffs is the M.E. Lazerte Voyageurs (9-1, 29 GW/11 GL), winners of nine in a row before Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mother Margaret Mary Storm (5-4).
Lazerte held the upper hand against the Skyhawks 23-25, 25-18, 25-23, 12-25, 15-9 Oct. 4 at the SkyDome and the Bulldogs 25-18, 23-25, 25-20, 25-22 Oct. 16 at Lazerte.
“That game our hitting was not good. We just couldn’t get a pass up and that meant we couldn’t get a hit off,” Cadger said. “It was really disappointing because we’ve always been pretty close with them and this year it was pretty bad.”
If everything goes according to plan, the Bulldogs will have to knock off the Skyhawks in the semifinals and Lazerte in the final to end the championship drought.
“Now that we’ve played them we know how to play against them and we feel our chances are going to be better the second time around,” Cadger said. “If we play our game we can play pretty much against anyone.”
The Skyhawks missed the mark in nailing down home-court advantage in the semifinals after going down to defeat at Bellerose.
“We were hyping up this game up a lot,” said Akkerman, one of seven Skyhawks on the 2016 team that missed the playoffs with a 2-5 pool A record. “There were definitely some nerves in the first set and that was evident. We gave up some runs there and made some mental errors that we normally don’t make but we know we’re better that that and we’ll come out and play harder the next game when we see them.”
The Bulldogs piled up the points in bunches and never were in grave danger of losing.
“We really gave them a lot of runs and we didn’t side out quick enough. That second set we were up (15-9) and then we gave them a huge run and that really did it for us. We dug ourselves a hole and it got in our own heads and that’s something we do sometimes so we’ve got to get better at that for the playoffs when we see them the next time,” Akkerman said.
In the first set, the Bulldogs rattled off runs of six to lead 13-12 and four to make it 19-4 as Lukas Bateman and Taylor Huls provided consistent serving and the dynamic duo of Daniel Ward and Ross Bishop pounded the ball for points. Bishop’s block on Ben Raposo during a net battle between intimidating middles kick-started the first run.
Down by six after a timeout, the Skyhawks scored twice before Bishop’s two-handed slam put the Bulldogs on the verge of winning the set at 24-18.
In the next set, Ben Kuchera’s serving and Tom Braze’s hitting played a role in the Skyhawks stringing five points together to lead 15-9.
The Bulldogs answered with seven in a row in large part to Skyhawks’ miscues, Cadger’s serving and a big block by Huls on Braze.
The teams then traded three-point runs as the Bulldogs regained the lead at 19-18 with another Bishop block on Raposo.
It was 21-19 Skyhawks when the Bulldogs replied with three straight as Ward launched a rocket to go up 22-21.
The Skyhawks responded with a pair after timeout, as Chase Gratton’s block put the score at 23-22.
Ward, a 2016/17 metro Edmonton all-star who was wearing the captain’s strip in the match, was instrumental in the last three points with a devilish tap over the blockers, a cross-court spike and then stared down Skyhawks’ captain Tristen Santiago during a play at the net after Huls’ serve for the set clincher.
The last set was a walk in the park for the Bulldogs, who feasted on the Skyhawks’ inconsistent serving and lack of firepower at the net. Bateman’s ace completed the sweep.
“At the beginning we started off a little slow but other than that we were pretty good,” said Cadger, 16.
Ward and Bishop were double trouble for the Skyhawks.
“They’ve got two good swingers,” Akkerman said. “If we shut those two down then that’s their team. Those two are their team.”
Ward, especially, was a handful to stop.
“We have to get Danny out of power because he goes cross a lot. He really cut it so we’ve got to get there and get our blocks inside more and just shut him down,” Akkerman said.
The Skyhawks were coming off a winning record at the 23rd annual Lions Western Canadian Challenge as they lost to the Barrhead Gryphons in pool play and the semifinals and also dropped a set to Paul Kane in their pool.
“We played great. We played with a lot of emotion. We took some good teams to three sets like Paul Kane, and they’re playing div one, and then Barrhead, that’s a 3A team, and that was a winnable game,” Akkerman said. “I was excited moving into this game from that momentum but we didn’t really bring that sadly. We didn’t bring momentum that we built on the weekend and we didn’t play like that. We have to go back to that and play a bit better.”
The last match for the Skyhawks in preparation for the playoffs is Monday at the St. Francis Xavier Rams (5-3) at 6:30 p.m.
“Definitely we have to tighten up our defence. Everything starts with our defence. Our serve receive has to be a bit better and get our pass a little bit tighter and make it easy for Tristan to run all our guys because when our offence is going we’re unstoppable,” said Akkerman, 17.