St. George – There were no tears; only smiles.
The Fundy Mariners junior varsity girls’ volleyball team fell 2-1 on their Fundy Middle and High School court to Poyvalente Thomas-Albert (PTA) of Grand Falls in the battle for the AA junior provincial title on Sunday.
Despite the loss the two very evenly matched teams, traditionally opponents, locked arms for a group photo in a show of respect and sportsmanship after a hard fought battle for the banner.
Just how evenly matched were the Mariners with PTA?
Each team in the eight team provincial tournament played two sets. If the sets were split, a third and deciding final set was played.
“Everybody was doing everything right. We weren’t making a lot of silly mistakes; I think everybody was just on their game.” – Erin Ingalls, Mariners Grade 10 setter.
Of the six sets played between the two teams (in preliminary play, and the championship final), the Mariners and PTA each won three sets.
Meeting in preliminary play (both teams were placed in Pool A), the Mariners defeated PTA 2-1, winning the first set 25-23, but fell 25-22 in the second. The squad rallied to win the third set 15-8; quite an improvement after last weekend’s two set loss to the Grand Falls team in the South West Regional Tournament.
“Everybody was doing everything right,” Erin Ingalls, Mariners Grade 10 setter, said.
“We weren’t making a lot of silly mistakes; I think everybody was just on their game.”
The two teams were fated for a matchup in the championship final.
The Mariners, heading into the provincial tournament as third seed from the south, placed first in their pool with a 2-0 (25-17, 25-15) victory over James M. Hill (second seed from the north).
The squad then defeated PTA to earn a berth in semifinals, and later secured first in their pool with a 2-1 win over Polyvalente Louis-Mailloux (19-25, 25-11, 15-6).
In the first semifinal, the Mariners met Aux Quatre Vents (second from Pool B) and advanced to the championship final after a quick 2-0 (25-18, 25-15) victory.
In the other semifinal, PTA handily defeated Woodstock (first in Pool B) 2-0 (25-9, 25-18) to square off against the Mariners in the final.
“I was definitely confident, but I was also worried (meeting PTA) because we had everything to lose,” Ingalls said.
“They were coming into it kind of being the underdog, so it’s a lot of pressure on us.”
The Mariners quickly stole momentum in the first set, and played like a well oiled machine, defending well against PTA’s power hitters, and hitting well.
“We were pumped,” Ingalls said of winning the first set.
“Everybody was so excited; the girls who didn’t get to play were just as excited as the girls who were on, which was awesome.”
The Mariners momentum however, didn’t carry over to the second set. PTA scored the first point of the set, and quickly jumped out to a 7-1 lead, as the Mariners made mental errors and communication broke down. The squad’s fire returned late in the set to close the gap in the score 23-21, but a well timed PTA timeout bolstered the Grand Falls team to a second set victory.
“They never quit, and they work hard and never give up.” – Sylvie Whippie, Mariners JV girls’ volleyball coach
Though neck and neck in the early minutes of the third set, PTA pulled ahead with strong serving and an 11-6 lead turned into the eventual win for PTA.
Following the championship final, a spectator congratulated coach Sylvie Whippie for having a “great team” with a “never quit” attitude.
“That’s true – they never quit, and they work hard and never give up. There was no fighting on the court because of mistakes, nothing like that,” Whippie said.
“They try to keep it together; we weren’t consistent enough on the reception because the rest worked – the block, the recovery, the coverage. The sets were there, their hits were there, and at some point we tipped a little too much, we should have hit more, it was just mix up everything I think.”
After the Mariners improved to second in the province (after finishing third in the regional tournament), Whippie praised the squad for their level of play and improvement in the rankings.
“We did so much better. Last weekend we were third, and here we are finishing second in the province; definitely better,” Whippie said with a laugh.
“(Saturday) was a great day; it was fantastic.”
Ingalls echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“Everything was faster and better and more precise, which obviously helps a lot.”
The majority of the junior varsity players are slated to move up to varsity next year (save for two Grade 9 players), with Whippie to follow.
Both Ingalls and Whippie said the experience in the provincial final is invaluable moving forward.
“I think it will give everybody another level of confidence knowing how well we did in JV,” Ingalls said.
“Last year in provincials, we came last, so we were all worried coming to provincials, I know I was, but now we know what we can do. Going into next year is going to be a lot easier, and we’re going to be a lot more confident.”
“It’s going to help. Everything is positive, because the experience, you can’t practice for the experience of being nervous for the final, you have to live it, so now they know, and we’ll go from there.”
Junior varsity girls AA provincials – standings after preliminary play
Polyvalente Thomas-Albert: 2-1
Polyvalente Louis Mailloux: 1-2
James M. Hill: 0-3
Aux Quatre Vents: 2-1