By the end of it, the “Let’s Go Hunting” chants were goosebump-inducing.
The Hunting Hills Lightning had finally slain its nemesis, winning the Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association 4A Zone Volleyball women’s title in convincing fashion.
Hunting Hills knocked off the two-time Alberta Schools Athletic Association 4A Provincial Champion Lindsay Thurber Raiders in the last match of the best-of-three zone final.
They swept the Raiders in three sets (26-24, 25-20, 25-6) in their home gym Saturday, in front of a raucous home crowd that aided the road to victory.
The Lightning left no doubt, running away with the third set and smashing ball after ball through the Raiders block.
“It’s just been a really long time coming,” said Lightning grade 12 outside hitter Avery Burgar.
“For us, (Lindsay) Thurber has won provincials the last two years and we knew we had a good team this year and we were ready for this game. Just a little nervous in the first game. Ready to come out (Friday) and we knew we had it at the beginning (Saturday), we were ready.”
Lightning head coach Adam Sillery found it tough to find the words to describe how much the win meant to the team and the program.
“Coaches and teachers put in an extraordinary amount of time into kids and teams. Anybody across Canada, it’s all volunteer but we spend so much time with these kids and get to know them so well, it becomes very emotional. Aside from volleyball. You create such good connections with the athletes,” he said.
“After grinding for a few years and coming up against (Lindsay) Thurber who is always an extreme competitor and always has great teams, to win this one it’s hard to put into words.”
Saturday’s win concluded a miraculous run after the Raiders took the first match Thursday at Hunting Hills in a wild five-setter. From that point forward, the Lightning didn’t lose a set, winning three straight at Lindsay Thurber Friday to force the deciding game Saturday.
“I think a lot of belief that we knew we could win,” said Lightning co-captain and libero Camryn Martinez about the comeback.
“We let them win that first (match) it was hard. But I think it just fired us up even more and beat them in their gym. We swept them, we knew we could do it. It was just a belief system in every one of our teammates to do it.”
Burgar was a force in the victory and the series, burying booming kills throughout the final two matches and willing the Lightning to a win.
“Avery was an absolute beast. Unbelievable, throughout the whole series,” said Sillery.
“She played great every single night. She has an intense desire to win. She’s an extraordinary student, athlete and I just love her as a person”
While Burgar was the catalyst, right side Taylor Leroux and Grade 10 Paige Roslinsky evened out the Lightning attack and made it just too much to stop for the defending provincial champs.
Earlier this season, a glimpse into what transpired Saturday was put on display. It was the Lightning that knocked off the two-time provincial champs in their home tournament, setting up a season where the Lightning finished first in the zone and inspired the confidence they needed to be champions.
“The first time we beat them was in their gym, we were down two sets and we came back and won it in five,” Burgar recalled.
“That knowing that we could do it and knowing we were good enough and that we had the strength to do it.”
The Lightning will now represent the zone at the 4A ASAA Provincial Championships in Edmonton next weekend. Lindsay Thurber received a wildcard bid and will also attend provincials.
The Notre Dame Cougars senior men also earned a wildcard berth and will attend provincials in Edmonton.