With their backs against the wall, the Pen High Lakers junior boys volleyball team managed to win one set before bowing to Langley Fundamental Titans in the provincial championship final.
In the best-of-five showdown, the Titans won the first two sets then won the fourth 25-22. Emery Lawrence and Logan Mend of the Lakers were selected to the first all-star team.
“We played some great volleyball against some very good teams,” said Lakers coach Paul Mend. “The final was very exciting and Langley Fundamental was a very good team. I was very pleased with all of our athletes this weekend, they battled hard all weekend and never gave up.”
The Lakers swept their way through pool play at Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford.
The round of 16 saw the Lakers defeat DP Todd (Prince George) 25-7, 25-13. In the quarter-final against Fraser Heights (Surrey), the Lakers dropped the first game 19-25. Trailing 23-18 in the second set, the Lakers made a miraculous comeback to win 28-26 and then won the third set 15-10. In the semifinals, the Lakers faced the Delta Pacers (who had a Penticton connection: Mark Trotman — Wiltse. With a strong effort from Lawrence, the Lakers won the final two sets to face the Titans in the final
The Lakers ended their season 32-1 and Mend sees good things for next year’s senior team with five returnees. The junior girls placed 10th in provincials.
The Lakers senior boys volleyball team has seen a steady rise since 2009 and it continued into 2011.
Coached by Scott Harkness, the Lakers finished fourth in provincials after losing to No. 2 ranked Fraser Heights FireHawks in the bronze medal game. The Lakers started strong, winning the first two sets 25-22 and 25-20, then losing the next three 26-24, 25-15 and 15-13. Turning things around for the FireHawks was Irvan Brar, who was dominant with serves and hits.
“He single handedly beat us in the last three games,” said Harkness. “He couldn’t be stopped and that is impressive considering the size of our blockers.
Harkness said luck is the only thing his players could have used.
“Sometimes a team has to get lucky during the match to close it out,” he said. “In the third game, with us up two games, we lost 26-24. They couldn’t have worked any harder. After that game, there was a huge momentum shift and the No. 2 team in the province entering the provincials showed why they had that ranking.”
Harkness was impressed with a few players starting with setter Ethan McCluskey, who played great and is one of the reasons for their success. Once he returned from his injury in November, McCluskey helped the Lakers become a No. 4 ranked team from No. 10. Harkness said McCluskey’s excellent play earned notice by some B.C. and Alberta colleges.
Dylan Ames’ passing and strong power hitting helped the Lakers. Ames too has received interest from Canadian and American schools. Harkness said Ryan Sutcliffe is probably one of the best middles in the province that stayed under the radar.
“He was consistent in putting up blocks and quick on the attack,” said Harkness. “He had a great serve that was nicknamed the laser.”
Tyler Berthelsen put up an enormous block and without that, Harkness doesn’t believe the match is as close. Josh Manning became the best defensive specialists (libero) in the tournament.
“Without him, as well as Wes Vancamp, we would not have been able to run our offence,” said Harkness.
Ames received an honourable mention award, Ty Moorman and Ethan McCluskey both were named to the second all-star team. While Manning did not receive an award, he was one of the top liberos (back row specialist) in the tournament.
After placing 10th in provincials last year, Lakers senior girls volleyball coach Paul Smith said finishing eighth capped a successful season. The Lakers faced their Okanagan rivals, the Kelowna Owls and lost to the eventual provincial champs 3-1.
“An Okanagan team winning it was great, showing the strength of the valley,” said Smith. “Every tournament that they beat us in to go to the championship this year, they have won.”
Smith said that playing Kelowna Secondary School was such an emotional battle for the Lakers that they weren’t able to get their game back. On Saturday they lost to Earl Marriott and South Kamloops, teams the Lakers beat earlier in the year.
Saturday matches were a best-of-three, and Smith said his group is better with the longer matches.
“We’re kind of that Eveready battery that keeps coming back at you,” he said.
What pleased Smith was that his players never gave up and he watched them make key digs and plays that shocked him.
“That was exciting to see,” he said. “We had a great year. Lots of successes. I just really enjoyed it.”
Smith said there is a good nucleus in place for Robert Gunning, currently coaching the junior girls, to take over. Smith will assist junior boys coach Paul Mend with the senior boys team.