The Nanaimo Christian School Trail Blazers senior girls, when they started out in high school volleyball, could never have imagined provincials would come to their school. But the B.C. championships are about to be served up there.
Nanaimo Christian hosts single-A provincials starting Thursday, Nov. 29 in a gymnasium that officially opened just six months ago.
“It means a lot,” said Kaitlyn Vanderkooi, team captain. “There’s 12 girls playing and nine out of the 12, it’s our last year hear at NCS. So to be able to have this opportunity and to play [this season] at a home gym for the first time, it was just amazing.”
Alex Tanaka, the team’s coach, said the knowledge that the NCS would be hosting provincials has been a motivator all season long.
“[It] has been a bit of nervous and anxious but exciting thing for us to look forward to,” he said. “We are very, very fortunate and blessed to be able to do this.”
This week will mark the first provincial championship tournament at Nanaimo Christian School, but not the first big tourney – the Trail Blazers also hosted Vancouver Island championships earlier this month and won, sweeping past Campbell River Christian in the final. Anna Boland was tournament MVP and Vanderkooi was a first-team all-star.
“It was a new experience,” Tanaka said. “We knew that with the home-court advantage, the jitters would be there with the crowd and everything, but despite all that, they were able to play the volleyball that we know how to play and they’ve been training for all their season.”
Vanderkooi said the team wanted to do well at Islands and knew that was possible. She said the opposing teams didn’t provide as much of a challenge as NCS had hoped for, but the Trail Blazers were able to maintain their own level of play. The situation will be a little bit different at provincials, where all the opponents will be capable, but the mindset remains the same for the Trail Blazers – focusing on themselves, not on the competition.
“We know the level. We knew were we have to be at competitively,” Tanaka said. “So we’ve been training for that goal and that purpose, mentally preparing and physically preparing.”
The coach said one of the team’s strengths is that players are able to “find ways to problem-solve” mid-game.
“The girls are experts at that now, where they get into a hitch and immediately start to think of ways [to] play better, think smarter,” he said.
The game plan will be to come out fast and strong against opponents. Being ready from the first serve can be a challenge for any team, Tanaka said, so the Trail Blazers feel that if they turn that into a strength, it can benefit them this week. Vanderkooi said the team will need to pass well, execute and finish to have success.
“My goal for the team is top-five, so we’ll see what happens there,” she said. “But if we play well and we play like how we can play, I believe we can do very well.”
GAME ON … Nanaimo Christian plays its first match Thursday, Nov. 29, against Hazelton at 10:30 a.m. NCS also plays that day at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and concludes pool play Friday at 10:50 a.m. Provincial semifinals are Saturday at 11:20 a.m. with the gold-medal match at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $5 per day or $10 for a tournament pass.