Every serve is an adventure for the Paul Kane Blues in division one volleyball.
Last year’s top division two team has more losses than wins while swinging at the highest level in the metro Edmonton league
“Oh, it’s crazy,” said co-captain Kyle Lund, a Grade 12 power hitter and one of three returnees from the first senior men’s volleyball championship team in Paul Kane history that went 9-1 in league play and 33-11 overall.
“We basically just swept div two last year, we lost one game, and then coming up here especially being a really young team playing against like all the best teams in the province it’s harder for sure,” Lund said. “We’ve just got to train better.”
Lund is also among eight Grade 12s on a roster that includes five players from the 2016 junior team that finished 12-1 as division two semifinalists and four Grade 10s.
“We’re a lot younger this year for sure,” Lund said. “We don’t really always have like that demeanor to put balls down. Last year we had a few strong swingers and we went out and just pounded balls.”
The Blues are 1-3 (6 GW/10 GL) in the team’s first division one campaign since 2014 after Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Harry Ainlay Titans (4-0) at Paul Kane.
“They played great,” Lund said of the defending champions. “We’ve had better matches but we’ve just got to put that one behind us and come back and play the next one.”
The Blues line up against a pair of heavy hitters at home against the Jasper Place Rebels (5-0), provincial 4A bronze medallists, at 6:30 p.m. Monday and the Edmonton Christian Lions (3-1), league finalists and the fourth-place 4A finishers, at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’ve got to come in like it’s a brand new season. We can’t hold these losses in the back of our head, we’ve got to play our game and finish off the rest of the season and see what happens in the playoffs,” Lund said.
The Blues applied for re-entry into division one and in the pre-season seeding tournament went two and one in the qualification match to place in the top half of the eight-team draw.
The Blues also emerged as the consolation winners at the University of Alberta tournament, placed fourth at the Tri-Volley Invitational in Sherwood Park and were the runners up at the BOOM Volleyball Classic at St. Francis Xavier High School.
The first victory for the Blues in division one was Monday’s 25-18, 25-21, 23-25, 26-24 result against the host Louis St. Laurent Barons (1-2).
“It was a smaller team and we just came out and played our game,” Lund said. “We were expecting that win.”
The Titans, however, were a handful as the Blues fell 16-25, 29-27, 21-25, 17-25.
“They’re the best team in the league so we came in here as the underdogs but we’re happy to take a set off them,” Lund said.
The Blues kept pace with the Titans in the first set, highlighted by Lund’s strong net presence and serves by Bryce Neuls during a five-point run that knotted the count at 12 but a bombardment of smashes during a lengthy scoring spree by the visitors closed it out.
The second set was a back and forth affair with very few runs and the Blues in catch-up mode until a string of four points made it 25-24 for the hosts. Lund was responsible for two of the points with a spike and then a serve that was unreturnable. A slick play in the middle by co-captain Patrick Charrois to tap the ball down in a gaping hole in the Titans’ defence gave the Blues the lead for only the second time in the set.
Both teams took turns hitting the net with serves, followed by an errant smash by the Titans and a howitzer that tattooed Lund’s upper body that left the score at 27 apiece.
A shot by Neuls off a blocker broke the tie and Owen Cooke’s thunderous block in the middle was the winning point.
The Titans cranked it up down the stretch in the third set with a 6-2 run to lead 16-13 and then four in a row to go up 22-16.
The Titans sealed the deal early in the fourth set with six points before the Blues counted their first score. The deficits ballooned to 15-5, 19-7 and 21-14 as the Blues were unable to keep pace with the front-runners.
Lund, 17, pointed out the positives for the Blues in the loss.
“We were playing really smart in the back row and we were passing well,” said the team’s most dangerous hitter. “We just lack sometimes when we swing. We don’t always go all out and that’s how we’re going to beat some of these big teams.”
SIDEOUTS: The lady Blues (2-2) dropped a 25-18, 14-25, 26-24, 18-25, 15-17 decision to the Titans (4-0) Wednesday at Paul Kane.
The Blues have home-court advantage next week against Jasper Place (4-0) at 5 p.m. Monday and Edmonton Christian (1-2) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.