August 17, 2017

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Volleyball women spike way to gold

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Team Manitoba's Laura Hill celebrates after defeating Alberta on the way to winning volleyball gold at the Canada Summer games, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Team Manitoba's Laura Hill celebrates after defeating Alberta on the way to winning volleyball gold at the Canada Summer games, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

So, they fudged it a bit on the province's official animal — big deal, these young women from Manitoba have earned the right to take some creative licence.

They're Canada Summer Games champions, for gosh sakes.

Manitoba's indoor volleyball squad captured the gold medal Saturday night with an over-powering performance against previously unbeaten Alberta, thrilling about 3,500 loyal followers at Investors Group Athletic Centre.

Down after the opening set, the hosts rallied to dump the squad from Wild Rose Country by a 3-1 (28-30, 25-22, 25-20, 25-15) count in the female Games finale.

Taylor Boughton's perfectly placed serve was flubbed by the Albertans, inciting pandemonium on the Manitobans' side of the court. Some dropped to their knees, while others hugged it out -- indeed, a moment to cherish for the dozen players and the coaching staff.

Moments later, they huddled for impromptu pictures, shouting out in unison: "B-U-F-F-A-L-O, all hail the buffalo" while using their fingers to flash the pointy horns of Manitoba's symbol, the Plains Bison.

"It hasn't really sunk in that our team just won Canada Games. I don't even have any words, actually," said Boughton, 18, from Oakbank. "I just think playing with some of my best friends in front of the home crowd made the experience 10 times better than it would have been somewhere else."

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Team Manitoba poses for pictures with their medals.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Team Manitoba poses for pictures with their medals.

The victory pushed the province's gold-medal haul into the double-digits. Indeed, 10 has a nicer ring to it, to go with 15 silvers and 17 bronze. That's a grand total of 42 during two weeks of competition for Manitoba, eclipsing its 35-medal performance four years ago in Sherbrooke, Que.

The only event left is the female softball final Sunday at 9:30 a.m. at the John Blumberg Complex, followed by the closing ceremonies at 2 p.m.

Laura Hill, 17, the daughter of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Rod Hill, said she's thrilled with the colour of medal she'll be wearing at Investors Group Field.

"It'll be amazing. I'm really pumped to step out there with a gold medal and show everybody that we could do it and that Manitoba volleyball won," said Hill. "It's unbelievable. We worked hard for it and just really left it all on the court. We weren't intimidated at all. We just had the games of our lives when we needed it."

Manitoba trailed 20-14 but pulled even 22-22 in the opening set. The teams traded points but Alberta finally won the extended set 30-28. Fuelled by the comeback that fell just short, Manitoba stormed to a lead in the second set and held on for a 25-22 triumph.

There as a palpable sense that the momentum had shifted, said Ayiya Ottogo, 18, who had 13 kills and five blocks.

"After that first set, we knew we could get them in the second and the third. We just said, 'It's our game, guys. Let's take it home right now,'" said Ottogo, who We were in that circumstance the night before in the semifinal against Ontario. We knew if we really fought for it and really dug deep that we'd be able to take it and keep the gold medal in Manitoba."

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Team Manitoba fans celebrate after winning a point on the way to taking volleyball gold.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Team Manitoba fans celebrate after winning a point on the way to taking volleyball gold.

The hosts kept pressure on the accelerator to post a 25-20 win in the third set, finished off by a monster kill from Emma Parker , and a thunderous cheer from the crowd that rocked the IGAC. In the fourth, Manitoba fell behind 13-10 but went on a remarkable 10-1 run to seize command and finally closed it out on Boughton's serve.

"Very nerve-wracking, especially when everybody stands up and is cheering," described Boughton, who recovered from two ACL tears in four years to make the squad and put in, perhaps, the best effort of her career against Alberta. "You're kind of thinking in your head, 'If you miss this, it's not gonna be good.' So, I just told myself to get it over. I served like I would, it was like a lollipop but it was a very good serve."

Alberta entered the final with an unblemished record (6-0) this week, including a semifinal victory over New Brunswick in straight sets Friday.

The Manitobans were 4-1 in preliminary play and then downed Ontario 3-1 in the other semifinal.

Emma Parker, whose 19 kills were tops for Team 'Toba, couldn't stop admiring the shiny object around her neck.

"This is literally a dream come true. I'm the happiest person right now," said the 17-year-old from St. Adolphe, tracing her finger around the medal's design. "It is absolutely beautiful -- look at this. I'm just so happy it's gold."

The golden squad also includes Jayda Nault, Julia Tays, Anna Maidment, Tori Isford, Jessica Andjelic, Averie Allard, Ashleigh Laube and Light Uchechukwu.

Manitoba head coach Josh Thordarson said his squad was on a mission since it was formed earlier this summer.

"It's everything we wanted for the girls. We planned this for them and they came out and executed and they get the medal to go home with to show it," he said. "We started in May. We've been grinding. We took the mindset of what needed to be done to be a champion and they bought in to our process. They deserve this and it's super rewarding for everyone."

Earlier in the day, New Brunswick outlasted Ontario in five sets (26-24, 22-25, 25-14, 19-25, 15-13) in the clash for the female bronze medal.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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