It turned out the favourites did what was expected of them during the opening day of the Central Alberta high school 4A volleyball championships Wednesday at Lindsay Thurber.
How they did it was another matter altogether.
Both the girls’ edition of the Lindsay Thurber Raiders and the Hunting Hills Lightning boys’ squad needed five sets to pull out a victory.
In the boys’ action neither team was willing to give much away before the Lightning managed to record a 14-25, 25-22, 26-28, 25-18, 15-12 victory.
On the girls’ side, the Raiders looked as if they would roll to an easy win taking the opening two games 25-17, 25-20. However, the Lightning took the next two sets 25-20, 25-21 before LTCHS got their act back together and took the fifth set 15-7.
The Raiders had every chance to pull off the upset in the boys’ contest, but a pair of slight letdowns midway through the fifth set seemed to kill what momentum they had.
The first came with the Raiders ahead 8-7. They put together a series of excellent plays to earn what appeared to be a key point. But the Lightning didn’t let down either and made a block to pull the game even at eight.
The Raiders then jumped into a 10-8 lead, but a missed serve killed that momentum.
“We were the first to eight in that fifth set, but the momentum changed and we couldn’t get it back for a couple of points and that was the difference,” said Raiders head coach Kevin Tennant. “But overall I’m proud of our guys. We battled every point, even in that fourth set we never lost the belief we were in it.”
“They battled,” agreed Lightning head coach Trevor Pikkert. “I have nothing but good things to say about their team. They dug a lot of balls, which can be very frustrating. But our guys did a great job of not letting up and kept coming at them and it eventually paid off.”
The Lightning were the bigger of the two teams, led by six-foot-eight right side hitter Jared Rushton, who at times proved to much to handle.
“He’s tough to stop and the best you can do is try to contain him and for the most part we did a good job tonight,” said Tennant.
“Jared’s a key player for us, for sure, especially when he gets the ball in the right spots,” added Pikkert.
On the girls’ side, Lightning head coach Scott Luck had a little talk with his troops following the second set and told them they had nothing to lose and just go out fighting.
“They did exactly that,” he said. “Unfortunately we didn’t start early enough and in the end made a couple of plays that hurt us.”
The Raiders also picked up their game in the fifth set and did a good job of taking away what was working earlier for the Lightning.
“We dug some balls and seemed to relax and play more of our game,” said Raiders Barb Young, who handles the coaching duties with Kirsten DeZutter. “I thought earlier we seemed to tighten up and didn’t play relaxed. We were playing not to lose rather than to win.”
In the third and fourth sets the Raiders, who are ranked No. 4 in the province, weren’t at their best, but the Lightning, who are an honourable mention in the rankings, did everything right.
“Give them credit,” said DeZutter. “Both teams knew what’s on the line here and they played with a lot of composure and dug up everything we hit in those two sets. On our side I didn’t think we were as committed as we needed to be.”
The playoffs continue tonight with Hunting Hills at Notre Dame while on Friday LTCHS hosts Notre Dame.
If there’s a three-way tie for first place, following Friday’s action, the first-place team will receive a bye into the provincials after the tie-breaker with the second and third place teams meeting Saturday to determine the other spot.
“This (win) was big,” said Pikkert. “This puts a lot of pressure on them (Raiders) and takes some off us. We still need to play well against Notre Dame, but we’re assured of at least a tie.”
“It would have been nice to win, but we played well and if we play as well against Notre Dame on Friday I won’t complain, no matter what,” said Tennant.
Luck feels his team should receive a boost from the way they performed Wednesday.
“Obviously it’s a big match against Notre Dame, but if we start as well as we finished today we’ll be right with them,” he said.
l The Notre Dame boys are ranked No. 4 in the province, the Lightning No. 5 and LTCHS 10 . . . The Notre Dame girls are No. 5.