The Bellerose Bulldogs exceeded expectations at the 4A provincial high school women's volleyball championship.
For a team that wasn't suppose to make it to provincials, the Bulldogs posted a winning record en route to a 10th place finish in the 16-team tournament at Lethbridge.
"We didn't even talk about provincials at the beginning of the year. We had no idea that we could actually make it there so we're really happy with how it went," said Ashley Easthope, a Grade 12 right side. "We're focusing more on our 5-2 record than coming in 10th."
In the best-of-three match to determine ninth and 10th place, the Bulldogs dropped a three-set decision to the Western Canada Redmen of Calgary. The deciding set was a 15-13 cliffhanger. The Redmen, an honourable mention in the last provincial rankings before the tournament, was seeded 11th in both the championship draw and the opening round of 16.
"It was a pretty emotional game," said head coach Maria Thompson. "The girls came out strong and played well all the way through the match. It was very close against a very good team. We had already beat them once [25-19, 27-25 in the superpool round robin] so we knew we could do it again but you could tell that the emotion of finishing up their careers was taking over. With every timeout they would say, 'Come on girls, it's our last game ever,' that sort of thing."
It marked the last hurrah for Grade 12 players Andrea Bucyk, Victoria Urmetzer, Taylor Poulin, Arianne Tash, Sam Hooke, Joanna McNeilly and Easthope.
"We're happy with how we played," said Easthope, 17. "It was a great season and such a great ending for the seven Grade 12s on the team. We had a lot of fun and played really well as a team together."
Beat the Blues
As the fourth and final Edmonton 4A zone qualifier at the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association championship, the Bulldogs were ranked as an honourable mention in the province and were seeded 12th in the championship draw. In their superpool, featuring teams seeded nine through 12, the Bulldogs went 3-0 to gain the number-eight slot in the opening round of 16. Their round robin record included a 25-22, 25-16 triumph over the rival Paul Kane Blues that left the Bulldogs howling in delight.
"Oh yeah, it definitely ranks right up there," Easthope said.
It was the first Bellerose win after six losses to Paul Kane, including a three-set decision in the best-of-three final at the Jasper Place tournament, a best-of-five sweep in the metro Edmonton premier conference and a four-set loss in the metro seeding playoff to determine the league's second and third place teams in the zone elimination tournament against Edmonton public league teams.
"It was really intense. We ended up winning it in two, which is like the first time ever that we've actually won the whole thing. We usually just win a set," Easthope said. "We varied our offence really well so we were really unpredictable who was going to hit the ball. We also served really hard at them and didn't make any silly mistakes."
In their opening match in the A side bracket the Bulldogs bowed out to the Grande Prairie Totems (North West).
"It was probably our worst match of the tournament," Easthope said. "We weren't nervous but it was the first time we weren't playing as underdogs because we were ranked higher than them so that kind of had something to do with it. There is a lot more pressure when you're not the underdog because you're expected to win."
The Totems, ranked ninth provincially, were seeded eighth in the championship draw and ninth in the opening round of 16 after their superpool matches.
"We came out with lots of intensity. We won the first set but after that we had a hard time hanging on to it going into the next three sets," Thompson said. "The difference between them and us was height. They were extremely tall and put up some very good blocks and our girls just got a little bit frustrated. In the first set we were really able to vary up our offence and get around them and once they sort of had a look at us they adjusted."
In the B side bracket the Bulldogs swept the Lloydminster Barons, seeded 16th, and the Bev Facey Falcons for a shot at ninth place.
"The girls rebounded nicely after the Grande Prairie game. They kept their heads held high and really set their sights on winning ninth," Thompson said.
It was extra sweet beating Bev Facey for the second time at provincials. In league play the Bulldogs and Bev Facey tied for second place at 9-2 and in the premier semifinals Bellerose lost out to the Sherwood Park team in four sets. In superpool action the Bulldogs rallied to defeat Bev Facey 24-26, 25-16, 15-10. Bev Facey was positioned 13th in the opening round of 16 after going 0-3 in the superpool. Bev Facey was ranked 10th provincially and in the championship draw was seeded ninth.
"It was one of our goals to beat Bev Facey in the tournament and we got to do that twice so we're really happy about that," said Easthope, one of eight returning Bulldogs from last year's 5-4 league record.
The Bulldogs (11-4, 36 GW/19 GL overall in premier and the zone playdowns) were making their first appearance at provincials since 2003, when they finished fourth as the tournament's host team. They earned a provincial berth with an electrifying four-set victory in Spruce Grove against the Panthers, the Edmonton public league finalists.
"To go 5-2 in the tournament is an excellent accomplishment. Even to be top 16 in the province after beating Spruce Grove was such a huge accomplishment for them," Thompson said. "I'm extremely proud of the girls, and some of them I've coached since Grade 10 [Easthope, Bucyk, Tash and McNeilly]. Every player on the team put in lots of hard work and dedication. They always seem to impress me at the right time."