The No. 1-ranked Crocus Plains Plainsmen from Brandon unseated the four-time defending champion Lord Selkirk Royals, who came in ranked No. 4, in straight-sets scores of 25-18, 25-22, 25-14 in the first semifinal Thursday night in the University of Manitoba Investors Group Athletic Centre.
"Last year we lost in this (semifinal) game, so to win it was great but then to beat the defending champions, it's even sweeter," said right side Jessica McCharles of Crocus Plains, one of six Grade 12 players on the team.
"It's my last year so this is almost bittersweet. It will be the finals but it will be our last game as a team so it's going to be so emotional. But we're so excited to be there in our Grade 12 year."
In the other semifinal, the No. 2-seeded Westwood Warriors defeated the No. 6 Vincent Massey Trojans 21-25, 25-16, 25-21, 25-19. Westwood will now be in the championship final for a second straight year.
The Warriors found themselves in tough early as the Trojans came out swinging, led by Grade 11 left side Alex Kibsey, and had leaped to a 6-1 lead before most fans had found their seats.
After dropping the first set, the Warriors regained their composure paced by the attack of Grade 12 Sonia Rossy and Grade 11 Rachel Cockrell, who were firing rockets from the left side. Player of the game Holly Asham's passing kept Westwood's offence on track. The Warriors won the third set by a Cockrell kill on a broken play.
"It was a bit of nerves at the beginning and we just needed to settle down and get into it a bit," said Cockrell. "We came back in the second set and we were gelling like crazy and talking out there and it was just so much fun."
Massey's player of the game was Kibsey. The Warriors will meet Crocus Plains in the championship final on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m.
The Plainsmen dominated each set as the team was able to win most of the long rallies and dug some tough balls out of the back row.
Crocus service aces, especially in the third set by Sara Friesen and McCharles, gave the Plainsmen a nine-point lead midway through the pivotal third and left the Royals scrambling to find their rhythm.
Selkirk struggled with unforced errors and, though the team battled back from behind in the second frame to tie the score for the ninth time at 22-22, they were beaten at the net by the bigger, stronger Crocus attack.
"We downplayed that all season, we hadn't been focusing on winning (title) No. 5 or 'we've been here before so it's going to be given to us again.' We knew it would be a tough season and it was," said Selkirk first-year head coach Robin Craig, who replaced longtime coach Rick Scott who is now head coach of the Dalhousie University Tigers women's team.
"I've been quoted before as saying I'm not Rick Scott of the past, I'm Robin Craig and I have a brand-new team out there and I'm quite proud of their accomplishments."
Craig said her team knew it would be in for a tough battle coming in against the top-ranked Plainsmen.
"We just didn't stick to our game plan and they threw all the weapons at us that they knew (would work) and unfortunately, we were maybe a little inexperienced at this level.
"We have a fairly young team on our part... and we found ourselves scrapping a little bit out there tonight. Look for us next year, we'll be back."
The match took only about 65 minutes to complete as Crocus relied on heavy outside hitting from player of the game Lisa Barclay, a Grade 11 left side player, and the experienced passing of setter Kellie Baker and Danielle DeGagne out of the back row. Selkirk's player of the game was Alyssa Chubey.
"It feels amazing (to beat the defending champions)," said first-year Crocus coach Trista Wenger who co-coaches the team with Bryce Wilson. Wenger coached the junior varsity team previously while Wilson was an assistant coach on the varsity team.
Wenger said the team had to overcome some pressure coming in, knowing that history was on the line as Selkirk was looking to win an unprecedented fifth straight provincial title. The River East (1997-2001) and Selkirk (1976-1980) girls' teams had also won four straight before.
"We've been hearing so much about them (Selkirk) over the last week-and-a-half just because they are (defending champions) and that's a five-peat for them that they were going for today so there was a lot of hype ," said Wenger, a 2003 Crocus graduate. "... it means so much to our team to be here, the girls worked so hard for this."