The Penticton Lakers senior girls volleyball team is focused on positive energy and hard work as they prepare to host the provincial AAAA championship Thursday to Saturday.
Nonetheless, Lakers coach Robert Gunning said confidence is also an important factor and with the days counting down, practices are spent building confidence. Heading into the championship, the Lakers are ranked 14th among the 16 teams competing.
“I like our pool, I like our chances,” said Gunning, who is fine with his team not being ranked among the top 10. “It’s one of those years where I think the top two or three teams have kind of separated themselves. The rest are tightly bunched. Lots of things could happen at this tournament. I’m not too worried about the ranking.”
The Lakers’ pool consists of No. 2 Riverside Secondary from Port Coquitlam, No. 8 Moscrop Secondary from Burnaby, and Handsworth Secondary from North Vancouver. South Delta comes in as the top-ranked school, while Kelowna is third, South Kamloops fourth, Argyle Secondary from North Vancouver is fifth, Elgin Park Secondary from Surrey is sixth, Coquitlam’s Pinetree Secondary is seventh, Earl Marriott Secondary from Surrey is ninth and G.P. Vanier from Courtenay rounds out the top 10.
“I don’t see any team here who we can’t play with,” said Gunning. “That’s the way we’re looking at it.”
Mikala Vujcich, a Lakers setter, is excited but admits the championship is going to be tough.
“We’ve had a guaranteed berth so I don’t know if everyone has taken it seriously enough to actually compete,” said Vujcich. “The last week we’ve had really good practices.
“We’re hosting so we have to make an impression. We don’t just want to get creamed,” she continued. “I think we’re getting better.”
Among the keys that Vujcich said are important to success is playing strong defensively and getting points from serves.
“Winning a few points off those can help you when you’re back a few points,” she added. “Passing is one of our big things.”
Setter Abi McCluskey said the group has talked a lot about communication as another key. They have worked on that on and off the court.
“Hopefully we will rise to the occasion and play as good as we can,” said McCluskey.
With it being Vujcich’s final season, she wants to end it with a bang.
“It will be fun. No pressure,” she said. “We have nothing to lose.”
Last Friday, the Lakers were eager to face city rival Princess Margaret Mustangs in the first Burger 55 City Championship. Their energy level was high knowing that bragging rights were on the line and they had a large crowd behind them.
Coach Paul Mend wants to see that energy that helped them defeat the Mustangs on Friday in three sets (25-15, 26-24 and 25-23) during provincials this week in Kelowna.
“I wouldn’t say we played our absolute best, but we definitely played well,” said Mend. “The guys just have to show up and it’s a long tournament. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. The guys just have to stay positive and have fun.”
Entering the provincial championship ranked sixth, Mend said his players are ready. Mend is excited to complete a journey with a group he has coached for six years and can handle a loss if they play well.
“If we go out and stink it up and we still win, I’m not going to be overly happy,” he said. “We want to go out and play our best.”
The Lakers will have to do it without Kevin Saunders, who has a torn medial collateral ligament and anterior cruciate ligament and bruised femur. Mend said if he can, he will use Saunders in limited situations. Otherwise, Saunders will support his teammates from the bench.
“He remains a big part of the team,” said Mend. “I just feel bad for him. It’s his senior year and he’s such a good kid. He’s worked so hard.”
When asked about the provincials, Saunders smiled.
“It’s an amazing place to be at. It’s so full of energy and fun and excitement you just can’t miss it,” said Saunders.
Saunders said the key to success for the team will be consistency. He also stressed the importance of being vocal.
“It’s always important to be loud. A loud team is always a winning team,” he said. “It helps the game. If we don’t defeat ourselves then I don’t think we can be defeated.”