When the Dakota Lancers won both the boys and girls’ high school varsity volleyball provincial titles in 2003, Ryan Hudson and Sara Harrington were playing for the yellow and black.
On Monday night at Investors Group Athletic Centre, Dakota was once again crowned the kings and queens of the varsity volleyball scene and just like 16 years ago, Hudson and Harrington had their fingerprints all over the school’s major accomplishment. However, this time, the two were standing on the sidelines as head coaches, with Hudson leading the boys and Harrington in charge of the girls.
The top-ranked Dakota girls, who posted a record of 41-3 this year, dismantled the No. 3 Vincent Massey (Brandon) Vikings in three sets (25-12, 25-18, 25-20) to cap off their dominant season with a championship banner. Dakota’s varsity girls program has won provincials seven times, but this was their first since their ‘03 run.
"It was exciting then and it’s exciting now," Harrington said. "I’m so excited they got to experience this. Because for me, this has been one of the best experiences of my life as a player and as a coach, it’s been really great. For them, I just wanted it because I know how it feels. I’m so happy that they did it."
The No. 4-ranked Dakota boys also took care of business on the night as they outlasted the third-seeded Westwood Warriors in four sets (25-23, 25-23, 22-25, 25-15) to win their second title in a row and 10th overall.
Since 1967, there have only been six years where one school has won both varsity titles. Dakota has pulled off the feat in five of those instances (2019, 2003, 1973, 1969 and 1967). The Lord Selkirk Royals (1985) are the only other school to do it.
"When it happened in ’03, it was a dream come true. It was so good for the boys and girls group," Hudson said.
"(Sara and I) kind of talked about it a few times this year, but didn’t want to say too much. Just today were texting back and forth and saying ‘Man, wouldn’t that be something if we could both pull it off?’ It’s pretty cool. Sara is a great coach and has done so well with those girls and kept on them the whole time. For us to follow that up and play a great match there is just unreal."
Hudson’s father Phil, now the coach of the University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s team, coached the Dakota boys for 31 years. For Ryan Hudson to win provincials in his first year after taking the reins from his dad makes it even more special.
"It’s amazing. Beyond my wildest dreams," Hudson said, seconds after his dad gave him a congratulatory hug. "I was coaching JV for eight years before that. I coached all these guys for four or five years coming up through the system and in my first year moving up to have this kind of group, kind of leadership and to pull off a championship, it feels great."
Vincent Massey hadn’t won a tournament all year and looked overmatched from the start. Dakota setter Emily Scott successfully ran the offence through right-side hitter and tournament MVP Brooklyn Olfert, middle Taylor McGillvary and left-side attacker Jaya Dzikowicz all night. The Dakota girls had an answer for everything and showcased why they were the top team in the province all year long.
"It’s crazy. I kind of walked onto this team," said Olfert, a Grade 11 student. "I thought we’d have a good team but I didn’t expect us to be this good by any means. It’s kind of crazy."
In the boys’ game, the first three sets could have gone either way. But in the fourth set, the Lancers overpowered Westwood as they had big kills from left-side Jaxon Rose, middle Sem Mehretab and Thomas Bridle, who plays both right and left-side.
"I think it was almost a little desperation from us. We didn’t want it to go five," said Dakota setter and tournament MVP Alex Krykewich. "A match in five can go either way, so we wanted to wrap it up in four, for sure."
Monday’s results cement Dakota as the top volleyball program in the province and Krykewich said it’s an incredible feeling.
"Best school in this province for volleyball this year. There’s no other way to put it," Krykewich said. "Our girls were dominant all year and we battled and battled and got it done."
For the rest of the province, the scary thing is Dakota will very likely be a force again next year. Not only will Olfert be back, but so will their star setter Scott. The guys will also welcome back a dominant duo in Rose and Bridle, as well as eight other players from this year’s squad.
"We’ll regroup and enjoy this one for the next little bit and hopefully get back at it," Hudson said.
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