The NAIT Ooks simply wouldn’t go away.
They just kept winning when they weren’t expected to and when it was over they stood as the Alberta Colleges Women’s Volleyball League champions.
The Ooks needed five sets to win all three games. They opened against Medicine Hat on Friday, winning the fifth set 19-17.
They then got past the RDC Queens 25-23, 19-25, 25-21, 16-25, 16-14 in the semifinal Saturday before downing the Lakeland Rustlers 13-25, 27-25, 16-25, 25-23, 15-11 in the gold medal match Sunday afternoon at RDC.
“We were like the Bad News Bears, we kept hanging around,” said Ooks head coach Lorne Sawula, a former national team head coach. “We hunted and pecked and worked hard to make ourselves adapt. In the end I thought we were the mentally strongest team here. We were on a razor thin edge and on another day we could be someplace else, but today was our day.”
The Ooks, who won their first-ever ACAC title, came through after losing their top power hitter Ashley Lee with an ankle injury in the fourth set.
“Kelsey (Tymkow) came in and did terrific job as a first-year player,” said Sawula. “But everyone did. We had a little role for everyone, even if it was in training. They were all there come game time.”
Sarah Watson-Kostaniuk had 12 kills, 11 digs, two aces and a stuff block for the Ooks, who were led by setter and tournament MVP Kelsey Bleier, who is a former RDC Queen. Peggy Sommerfeld had 15 kills for Lakeland, who reached the final with a 25-22, 25-21, 24-26, 21-25, 15-6 win over the Grant MacEwan Griffins.
The Griffins defeated the Queens 17-25, 26-24, 26-28, 25-23, 15-5 in the bronze medal match.
For the second day in a row the Queens made a number of mistakes when it counted the most.
“I thought we started not bad, but as the match went on we fell back into a bit of a rut and were tentative,” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton. “When we needed to we didn’t play at the level of preparation we came into the weekend at.”
The Queens had a chance to go up 2-0 and were hitting at 24-23, but didn’t put the ball away giving the Griffins an opportunity to come back.
“We talked about it that it can be a roller coaster ride and if you let them hang around long enough suddenly the pressure shifts to you . . . and we just didn’t execute under pressure today.”
The same could be said about Saturday when they missed a pair of serves late in the fifth set when it appeared they had the momentum.
“Those two missed serves were big, but we gave them an 8-2 run to start the set and that was as important,” said Walton.
Sawula said he felt bad for the Queens.
“I do feel bad for them. They got feeling the pressure of winning at home and collapsed a little.”
Serving proved to the difference as the Ooks didn’t miss a serve after the first set while RDC missed four just in the final set alone.
The Queens, who are much younger team than NAIT and Lakeland, could lose a number of their starters this season.
“We were on a three-year cycle and last year winning bronze was an important step in our development for this season,” said Walton.
“The pieces were in place and we were challenging. We finished first (during the season), but we didn’t perform at the level we were prepared to play at.
“The pieces just didn’t line up right. They were jagged when we needed smooth. We missed opportunities when we had chances to go on runs, like missing a serve, hitting the net, or the ball wasn’t in the right spot for a hitter. They all added up to knock us off our rhythm.”
Walton added he felt for his graduating players, and added they made a big contribution to the program.
“The Central Alberta kids helped volleyball in this area considerably,” he said. “They were role models for kids to look up to. Kids coming through the club program know there’s a place to play and they can play at this level. It means a lot to the area and all you have to do is look at the fans out this weekend. They filled the gym for women’s volleyball, so we’re doing something right.”
As for the future Walton feels it will continue to be bright.
“We’ll try to put the pieces together and add a few pieces we need for next season. Plus we have a number of pieces still here and it will fall on our shoulders, as coaches, to get the most of out them.”
Tournament all-star Brooke Sutter had 11 kills and 10 digs against MacEwan while Shelby Bramall added nine kills, seven digs and four blocks, Karissa Kuhr nine kills, 14 digs and four blocks, libero Maddi Quinn 29 digs and Kirsten Sorensen two aces, a block and 14 digs. Kimberly Bolin had 17 kills for MacEwan.
Sutter had 16 kills, 17 digs and two aces against ]NAIT while Kuhr added 13 kills and 16 digs and Amber Adolf 12 kills, 24 digs, two aces and a block. Quinn added 30 digs.
Meanwhile, the Olds Bronocs, who played their best game of the weekend Saturday — a 25-21, 250-15, 210-25, 14-25, 15-12 win over Grande Prairie — lost 25-23, 15-25, 19-25, 16-25 to Briercrest Bible College Clippers in the consolation final to finish in sixth place.
“It was a disappointing end to the season as we didn’t look after our defensive responsibilities or our game planning which comes with a more experienced team, “ said Broncos head coach Chris Wandler. “But overall I was happy with how the season went. I think we’re there and on our way to better things next year.”
Telaina Snider had 12 kills and nine digs, Sage Fahlman six kills and 10 digs and Shael Bourne 19 digs against the Clippers.