BOW VALLEY – About to strike the volleyball with an overhand serve, Our Lady of the Snows Avalanche’s Matilda Kirk felt every nerve creep up her spine with the home tournament finals on the line Saturday (Sept. 16).
Up against the J.C. Charyk Hawks, the local senior girls team was on the verge of winning its first home tourney trophy in a decade and they needed only one more point to get it.
“I was telling myself in my head for the last one just ‘don’t mess this up’, like, this could be the last serve you do,” said Kirk with a laugh.
Smacking the ball in play, the Hawks of Hanna weren’t able to handle the Grade 12 setter's serve as the ball bounced between two players before falling to the floor, which sent the Avalanche team yelling in joy.
“We haven’t done this before,” said Avalanche setter Sierra Steel. “This is our first tournament of the season so I think we were a little nervous … so it’s definitely really good to have a trophy that has ‘Avalanche’ on it.”
On a big day of senior high school volleyball tournaments in Canmore, the Avalanche senior girls buried the Hawks in two sets (26-24, 25-20), including a big time comeback in the first set, which “redeemed” the team from just a few hours prior.
Earlier, the Hawks handled the Avalanche in their first match of the day, so the local girls wanted to give back a receipt to the visiting squad. With five set wins apiece, a finals showdown appeared imminent between the two teams – until the Banff Bears threw a wrench into the plans.
Minutes before the start of the final match, the Bears knocked off the Hawks in two sets, which put Banff, the Avalanche and Hawks in a three-way tie with five set wins each.
The two squads to face off in the finals was determined by a points for and against ratio. Unfortunately for the Bears, which had just knocked off the top team up until that point, they were sent packing.
Having already lost to the Hawks, the Avalanche came out shaky in the first set and got deep into a hole. A timeout was called by OLS head coach Janell Toews when the score was at 18-9.
“I said the words of one of our players, who’s injured right now, and [Natalie Logan] told them before she left that it doesn't matter how many points behind, we can always win,” said Toews.
From there, the Avalanche rallied and quickly closed the gap to 20-17 before the coaches from Hanna were forced to call time and regroup, but the delay in play wasn’t enough to slow the Avalanche's barrelling momentum.
Coming all the way back to tie the set at 24, a long rally then ensued for the critical 25th point, which, eventually, was taken by the Avalanche.
After being down nine points, the local squad clawed back to steal the first set 26-24. A year prior, the OLS senior girls rallied back from an eight point deficit to take bronze at their home tourney. However, higher stakes were on the line Saturday.
"I think we were kind of scattered and, like, weren't playing our game," said Steel. "When we got that momentum, it felt really good."
During the second set, the game was back and forward, but OLS began chipping away at the Hawks. Eventually, the local squad got up 24-20, which set up Kirk’s final serve.
“I think winning that first set definitely gave us that confidence boost that we needed to push through the last set,” said Kirk.
“It’s rewarding to be at home [and win] ... it’s really encouraging for the rest of the year to keep working hard."
For Toews, the long time OLS teacher and coach can finally scratch something off her 'To Do list'. The victory marked the first time Toews has coached a senior girls team that has won a home tournament.
"For them to improve and comeback and win is awesome," said Toews.