The Hunting Hills Lightning senior girls enter high school volleyball play riding high.
They knocked off the so-called Goliath of Alberta high school volleyball, one that has won back-to-back provincial champions and also happens to be a cross-town rival.
For the Lightning, beating the Lindsay Thurber Raiders at the RDC fall invitational was as much about slaying the giant as convincing themselves they can actually beat a team they play a handful of times during the regular season.
“That particular school has such a successful program over the last few years, that it almost felt like an insurmountable task. It’s a little bit of a monkey off your back to get that one under our belt,” said Lightning coach Adam Sillery, whose team was an honourable mention in the Alberta high school volleyball preseason rankings.
“Now, we can go from there. We set a standard and we can see what else we can do.”
Powered by just three Grade 12s – Camryn Martinez, Taylor Leroux and Avery Bugar, the Lightning will rely on that trio as well as a young crop of Grade 10s (Rilyn Boorman and Paige Roslinsky) who are pushing the envelope.
“Only have three Grade 12, but two really good Grade 1os who have a high volleyball IQ and are such great competitors and that changes the whole dynamic of everybody,” Sillery said.
“That’s made all the difference in the world in practice and games. The difference in mindset.”
The rest of the roster is a mix of Grade 11 girls, some returning from last season and a few new to the mix. Alex Makortoff, Jamie Barnes, Shianna Duda, Shaylea Shoemaker, Marissa Richards, Taylor Blais, Rachel O’Connell and Brielle Brown round out the group.
Still early in the year, Sillery is still learning the identity of his group but knows that if they can solve the serving and passing aspects at this point, they’ll be well set up down the road.
“You have to just play and see where and what you can do in-game and how you make adjustments. Volleyball is the most random game out there, but it’s pretty basic,” he said.
“If you can serve well and pass well, you can start doing other stuff. If you do those poorly, you’re a bit out to lunch.”
The Hunting Hills senior boys still have work to do ahead of the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association volleyball season.
They are ranked among the top 10 schools in Alberta with the regular season on the horizon, but after 14 matches in September, know there will be important adjustments that still need to happen.
Tuesday, they lost three of four sets to the highly ranked Lindsay Thurber Raiders in exhibition play.
“We have an older group for sure. I’ve been really happy with our first two tournaments. (Today) score-wise was not a result we loved but that’s a top team in the province. When they’re serving as well as they do and blocking as well as they can, it’s a tough team to beat,” said Lightning coach Blake Henwood.
“There’s some things I’m happy with. In order to beat a group like that, we have to be A-plus. We have to find a way to sustain that higher level that we can play at if we’re going to topple a team like Thurber.”
The Lightning are led by a veteran group, with eight Grade 12 players and only two from Grade 11.
Middle Conall McIntosh will play a big role this season, along with Bradley Roslinsky, Kaeden Boorman and right side Kyle Rix. A big help on the offensive side is grade 12 setter Justin Wasylowich.
“We’re pretty balanced in terms of attackers. I would love to have one guy that separates himself a little bit and is a go-to guy. We have three or four guys that I’m comfortable setting when it’s tight and when we need to score,” said Henwood.
“It’s nice to have some balance and some depth. And a few guys that can come off the bench that I’m not afraid to put out there. I hope one or two of those four guys can elevate enough to be THE guy.”
Lindsay Thurber will host their annual high school volleyball tournament this weekend.
Hunting Hills will round out the preseason against Notre Dame on Oct. 2, then start the regular season on Oct. 16 against the Raiders once again.