The Nanaimo District Islanders won the provincial championship in a charged atmosphere in a deafening gymnasium.
The NDSS senior AAA girls’ volleyball team defeated the host Seaquam Seahawks in the title game Saturday night in Delta.
The final came down to a fifth set and needed extra points before NDSS prevailed 25-22, 18-25, 16-25, 25-22, 21-19.
“It was exciting to play and really intense…” said Danya Nieman, NDSS all-star. “We fought through it and I knew we were going to do it because I trust my team.”
A turning point in the tournament came Friday night, when the Islanders defeated the Timberline Wolves, the team they had lost to in the Vancouver Island final two weeks earlier. This time Nanaimo won 18-25, 25-22, 25-17, 27-25.
“Right after that game, it kind of shot us forward and we all decided that we weren’t going to settle for anything less than first place,” said Victoria Behie, tournament MVP.
NDSS defeated College Heights in Saturday’s semifinal by scores of 26-24, 13-25, 29-27, 22-25, 15-11 to advance to the big game.
“We did not want to lose this championship. We’d been looking forward to this match,” Nieman said. “We’ve been wanting to play Seaquam in the finals for the past couple of years.”
So it was a special moment for that to happen, especially with the match being held in Seaquam’s gym.
“It was so loud,” said Nieman.
“You can’t even hear yourself think,” said Behie. “You communicate with your teammates just by looking at each other. Everyone was roaring. The roar of the crowd just fires you right up. It’s such an adrenalin rush.”
Two other Island teams, the Wolves and the Ballenas Whalers, threw their support behind Nanaimo District, helping to cancel out the Seahawks’ home-court advantage.
On match point, Behie went for a kill and the Seahawks were able to dig it at the back line, but only just, and it led to a double hit and victory for the Isles.
“Wow, it was insane,” Nieman said. “I have never been so happy in my life. Our team was just bawling and it was just the most amazing experience ever.”
Behie described the moment as pure, sheer happiness.
“It was this exuberant feeling. Wow, we finally did it,” she said. “Everyone worked their hardest and we came together and just clicked and it finally pushed us over the top. We are first in B.C. I can’t even express to you how happy we were. It was unbelievable.”
The victory was all the more remarkable considering that it was a comparatively turbulent season for the Isles. They had a string of different coaches, but managed to maintain their drive and focus.
“[The] core of the team has been together for our whole high school careers and we really wanted this to end in a great way,” said Behie.
All along, they trusted and supported one another, she said. And then in the biggest match, that bond strengthened and it couldn’t be broken and they couldn’t be beaten.
“I could not have asked for a better group of girls to play volleyball with,” Nieman said.
COURT SHORTS … The NDSS senior AA boys finished fifth at provincials in Kelowna. Caleb Harder was a first-team all-star and Jared Parhar was an honourable mention all-star. Dover Bay Secondary School’s senior AAA boys were also in Kelowna, where they placed seventh. Robbie Calvin was a second-team all-star. The Cedar Spartans senior AA girls were 13th at their provincial tournament in Surrey.