Whether the Lord Selkirk Royals or the St. Paul's Crusaders varsity boys claim Manitoba's AAAA high school volleyball crown, this is certain: There will be a new champ in town.
The Royals earned their berth to the playoffs by toppling the defending champion Mennonite Brethren Hawks at the Investors Group Athletic Centre Thursday night, right before the St. Paul's Crusaders clawed their way past the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes in four blistering sets. Neither game was a gimme. For awhile, it even looked like the Hawks might come screaming back from a two-set deficit, something they'd done to the Royals in big playoff games before.
"I had those thoughts in my mind, they've done it before," said Royals coach Jeff Scarcello after the victory. "We were fortunate to get by them... We hit our targets, we passed really well, and that allowed us to run our middle. We have a lot of weapons."
Now, the Crusaders and the Royals -- who came into the playoffs as first and second seed, respectively -- will face each other across the net in Monday night's final.
"I think it'll be a dogfight, I think even moreso," said St. Paul's coach Lloyd Voth. "I hope my guys are a little more settled and we turn it up another notch."
That could be a challenge after the Crusaders' electrifying semifinal battle. They hadn't played the Buckeyes through the season, so the teams met each other as relative unknowns and in the opening minutes of the first set, St. Paul's fell into an 8-3 hole. They stormed back, though, and eventually clinched the opener 25-23.
What followed was a veritable tug-of-war between the teams, as they swapped points and traded leads. The second set was tied as late as 22 points, before a bungled serve and an out-of-bounds hit by the Crusaders helped hand the set to the Buckeyes, 23-25. In the third frame, St. Paul's surged past an early deficit to lead through most of the set, and although the Buckeyes pushed back late, St. Paul's claimed it 25-21.
So it all came down to the fourth frame, a nail-biter again as the Miles Mac boys played for their lives. But the Crusaders pushed hard to close out the second half of the set, ramming ahead from a 15-16 deficit to take a commanding lead. Finally, a fiery kill shot from left-side hitter Tom Meier clinched the set 25-20 and, with that, the game. Setter Matthew Hooker was named MVP for the Crusaders, while blazing left side Brendan Cairns earned the honour for the Buckeyes.
For the Royals, who fell to the Hawks in last year's championship game, the semifinal was a chance to settle some old playoff scores. They opened the match firmly in control, as they took the first two frames 25-18 and 25-17. But the Hawks, partly riding a fine performance by setter Luke Derksen, surged back in the third to make it a fight. MBCI claimed the third set 21-25, then clawed their way back from a deficit to take a 19-21 lead in the fourth.
"They were playing good team volleyball," said Royals left side Brandon Sutherland, named team MVP for his efforts. "They switched some things up... we didn't adapt as quick as we wanted to. We really let their outside hitter take over the game a little bit, he got a lot of kills on us. It's tough when you let a player do that, especially in a high speed game like this."
The provincial AAAA high school boys' volleyball final is slated for 8 p.m. Monday at Investors Group Centre. The girls' final between Neelin and MBCI is scheduled for 6 p.m.