The St. Albert Skyhawks are rising to the top in division two men’s volleyball.
The Skyhawks are within striking distance of undefeated Bellerose Bulldogs and M.E. Lazerte Voyageurs after their fifth victory in six matches Wednesday.
“We can be a contender for the final,” said Ben Raposo, a punishing Grade 12 middle, after the four-set decision against the winless Leduc Tigers at the SkyDome. “We have a lot of team chemistry and a lot of skill too and we’re putting it together.”
The Skyhawks (5-1, 17 GW/8 GL) have four matches remaining before the playoffs and the best of the bunch is the Oct. 25 tilt with the Bulldogs (7-0, 21 GW/4 GL), last year’s division finalists. The first serve is 5 p.m. at Bellerose.
“That’s going to be the biggest for us of the regular season,” Raposo said.
The Skyhawks and Lazerte (6-0, 18 GW/4 GL) squared-off last week at the SkyDome and the Voyageurs prevailed 23-25, 25-18, 25-23, 12-25, 15-9.
“It was a big game. It was really intense. It was definitely a tough loss,” said captain Tristen Santiago, a Grade 12 setter. “They have a couple of players that can swing the ball so that was one of their strong points. They also had a really good middle.”
Lazerte was beatable but the Skyhawks were unable to seal the deal.
“We probably could’ve pulled a W,” Raposo said. “Fourth set was a big victory and then the fifth set the passing wasn’t there and that’s where it all starts for us.”
Monday’s match between the Voyageurs and Bulldogs at Lazerte at 6:30 p.m. will also have ramifications among the three highest-ranked teams in the standings.
The Skyhawks are in the thick of things to capture the senior team’s first metro Edmonton banner since 2012 in the city conference before the merger of the metro and public leagues.
Last year’s team missed the division two playoffs with a record of 2-5 in pool A.
“A lot of us came off a good club season so we’ve all improved a decent amount and we’ve got a couple of new guys too,” said Santiago, one of seven returnees on a roster featuring eight Grade 12s, plus two additions from the 2016 division three 13-0 junior champion Skyhawks and one Grade 10 player.
The Skyhawks excel in several areas.
“We run a really strong offence so when our passes are there all of us are on,” Santiago said.
“Our strength is definitely attacking. We’re good always when we get a good pass, we can finish an attack,” Raposo added. “Our blocking is strong too. When the seams are there we’re good.”
The Skyhawks showed some flashes of their winning form against Leduc (0-6, 4 GW/18 GL) in the 25-11, 22-25, 25-15, 25-19 outcome.
“It wasn’t our best. It wasn’t very good. It was disappointing,” Santiago said.
The first set started off with the Skyhawks in control at 13-5 and it ended with a nine-point run with Chase Gratton, the server for the team’s last eight points.
In the next set, Leduc capitalized on a slew of miscues during a six-point run to lead 15-9.
Down 17-11 the Skyhawks roared back with seven in a row behind Raposo’s heavy hits and Ben Loewen’s steady serving.
Leduc rallied three times to knot the score before regaining the lead for good at 23-21 while winning the battle of the net down the stretch.
The Skyhawks regrouped for the third set and piled up the points for a commanding 16-6 advantage as Tom Braze, the only rookie on the team, led the way scoring-wise.
Raposo took charge towards the end of the set with a power play of points and in the fourth set hammered the ball with a spike as the Skyhawks wrapped up a match that lasted longer than expected.
“We dropped that one set but we got the win so I’m happy about that,” Raposo said. “Honestly, it was one of our worst games. Our passing wasn’t great.”
Raposo, 17, works in tandem with Santiago to tattoo the floor with penetrating smashes.
“We’ve been playing together four, five years and we’ve got good chemistry so when we connect it gets good,” said Raposo, a six-foot-four jackhammer and Santiago’s teammate for three year on the senior Skyhawks.
“He’s really good. He brings our team morale up. When he gets a kill we all get happy. It’s good to have him,” said Santiago, 16.
Next week, the Skyhawks start prepping for the playoffs, plus the 3A zone elimination tournament for a berth at the provincials in late November at Strathmore, with matches at the SkyDome at 5 p.m. Monday against the Holy Trinity Trojans (2-4, 10 GW/13 GL) and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against St. Peter the Apostle Spartans (2-3, 8 GW/9 GL), followed by the 23rd annual Lions’ Western Canadian Challenge. The 12-team men’s and women’s tournament is co-hosted by the Skyhawks and Morinville Wolves.
The Skyhawks are grouped in pool B with the Paul Kane Blues (last year’s division two champions are 1-7 in division one), Sturgeon Spirits (6-0 in division three), Barrhead Gryphons (2016 3A provincial silver medallists), R.F. Staples Thunderbirds of Westlock and Beaverlodge Royals.
Pool play for the men and women begins at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at Morinville Community High School and the SkyDome. Friday’s matches for the Skyhawks include Sturgeon at 11:15 a.m. and Paul Kane at 1:30 p.m.
Visit www.mchs.gsacrd.ab.ca for the tournament schedule.
“Definitely it will be a fun tournament and good for improvement,” said Santiago, noting the Skyhawks have to work on “defence and passing for sure” leading up to the post-season.