The Hunting Hills Lightning celebrate a point in the third set against the Lindsy Thurber Raiders in Central Alberta High School volleyball play at Lindsay Thurber on Wednesday. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/ Advocate Staff)

Hunting Hills Lightning senior volleyball team faces tragedy head on

Lightning 3 Raiders 1 (Sets)

In the face of an imaginable tragedy, the Hunting Hills Lightning senior boys volleyball team pulled off something special.

Just two weeks ago they lost teammate Justus Smith and the wound is still fresh. Thursday they will attend the funeral of their teammate, but Wednesday they rose up and just played.

The knocked off the defending Alberta Schools Athletic Association 4A bronze medalist, beating the Lindsay Thurber Raiders three-sets-to-one (25-22, 25-19, 23-25, 25-20) in an emotional and tense battle.

“The focus was to try and turn it into a game that meant something. It might not mean much in the standings, but for the guys to come into the gym and play as well as they did here against a team that’s had our number for quite a few years, it was big,” said Lightning head coach Blake Henwood.

“Obviously there’s heartbreak all over the place. But one thing that didn’t happen is a division. It brought these guys about as close as I’ve seen a team. You never want to put any teenager through any type of situation close to that. But the fact that they’ve got through it for now, and they’re at the point they’re at, is encouraging.

“Mentally there’s a big uphill battle for them. Playing volleyball helps, getting back to normal life.”

Even though Wednesday was an exhibition match, Lighting captain Justin Wasylowich said there was plenty of emotion throughout the match against the Raiders, and he was proud to see them pull out the victory.

“It was very intense. I think that’s a big step for our school and as a program. I just think it was a great game, and I’m happy we won,” he said.

Wasylowich added the team has really come together over the past few weeks, and the win put their resiliency on full display.

We really gelled as a team that game and it’s great. I’m really proud,” he said.

“We’ve gotten so much closer as a team because of what happened. It was a bad thing, but it totally helps our team.”

Henwood got strong blocking from middle Ryan Mudler and Gavin Walters, as well as timely hitting from Ryan Berglund. He was impressed all around with the performance.

“There’s some guys that do a really good job at the net blocking, and I think we have some guys that go back and hit some aggressive serves and into some good spots and put teams in trouble on their serve receive,” he said.

“The overall resiliency of the group is maybe a bit of a strength. They don’t get too down on themselves when things aren’t going well.”

Hunting Hills will face Notre Dame next Wednesday when the regular season starts, while the Raiders will take on the Lacombe Rams.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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