WITH the chance at the top provincial volleyball championship humming in his veins, Lord Selkirk Royals left side Brandon Sutherland slammed the ball once, and again.
This was late in the fifth set of the final between the Royals and the St. Paul's Crusaders on Monday night, with the Lord Selkirk squad leading 8-14 and the championship trophy already glinting in their sights. Three times Sutherland leaped up and hammered the ball down on the Crusaders, and twice they dug it right back out. It was almost as if he was willing the ball to go in -- and when it finally did, it sealed his team's AAAA boys' varsity championship win.
For that kind of intensity, Sutherland was named the tournament MVP. "I really wanted to get the game-winning kill, I really wanted this for the team," Sutherland said after, the whoops of his teammates still whipping through the air. "I thought the first was going in for sure. They dug the second one up, but the third one I had to put away. Third one's the charm."
With that, the Royals squad finished what they started last year, when they fell in the final to the Mennonite Brethren Hawks in three. This year, they'd already made it past that team, when they triumphed over them in last week's semifinals. So on Monday night at the University of Manitoba's Investors Group Centre, the only thing standing between them and the glinting silver trophy was a jacked-up wall of maroon.
Not that it was going to be easy against the top-seeded Crusaders squad. Of course, at first it looked like the Royals might cruise to victory. They won the first set 25-22, and marched to a 25-23 win in the second set too. But in that third set all hell broke loose, as the desperate Crusaders clawed their way back from the brink. The St. Paul's squad tied it up at 21 with a smashing kill from left side Bruce Akubukaka: What followed was a blood-pumping duel, a series of wild and desperate rallies. It ended when St. Paul's left-side-middle Ryan Stasiuk threw up a block that enchoed from the rafters and earned his team a 28-26 third-set win.
"They had us worried for sure," coach Jeff Scarcello said, as he celebrated his first varsity coaching championship, and the Royals' first boys' varsity crown since 1994. "They turned around, played great, made some changes and it took a while for us to adjust."
Surging, the Crusaders rode their newfound momentum through the fourth set, taking it 25-17 to force the final frame. But though the momentum so sharply shifted, the Royals never let their dream slip away. That fifth set, Scarcello said later, was the best his team had ever played, as libero Riley Reckseidler made some spectacular digs and Sutherland, finally, put it all away.
"They were unbelievable," the coach said. "It just seemed like our guys decided that was it. It was going to be our turn to turn it up, and our guys made some great plays. It was a lots of fun to watch... I couldn't have asked for anything more for my first championship."