The Cochrane Cobras senior volleyball teams fought hard at the ASAA 3A provincial tournament in Westlock Nov. 25 to 27, with the boys making it into quarter-final playoffs and the girls claiming the silver.
After facing St. Peter the Apostle's Spartans of Spruce Grove in the Pool C round robin, where they lost 15-25 and 18-25 in straight sets, the Cobras senior girls' team came back stronger to face them again in the playoff final, finishing in a close second with scores of 22-25, 25-15 and 15-17.
Apart from the loss against the Spartans, the Cobras went undefeated in every set throughout the tournament, which included teams from Holy Rosary Academy, St. Joseph, R.F. Staples, John Paull II, Monsignor McCoy, Barrhead, St. Gabriel the Archangel, and Springbank.
"There has to be a loser," said Cobras senior girls coach Esther Sieben. "There has to be someone that ends the season with a loss in the final championship. When it's that close –17-15 in the third – sometimes, you're just unlucky."
The Cobras had two injuries throughout the provincial tournament, according to Sieben, one which struck a starter in the semi-final, and another which took co-captain Kas Trenke off the court while the team was up 15-14 in the third set of the final game.
Sieben, who said the girls played well in the first set, felt it was necessary to switch positions up on the court if they were going to end up on top.
"The resiliency of our team to make those adaptations and those switches on the fly... Everybody was hustling. The discussions that were had in the timeouts between 17- and 18-year-olds, for them to have that level of maturity – on the bench and on the court – I'm blessed to be coaching a team like this because they just set themselves apart."
Sieben also commended the performance of their fellow Rocky View Sports Assocation representatives at provincials, Springbank, who had a tie breaker against John Paul II to make it into the quarterfinal, where the Cobras came out on top 25-14 and 25-17.
"Two [Rocky View] teams were top five in the province, so that kind of gives you an idea of the calibre of volleyball in our area," Sieben said.
Boys finish fifth
The Cobras boys’ varsity team finished second overall in Pool B, losing two sets in a single match to Fort McMurray's École McTavish with scores of 25-18, 12-25, and 9-15 before heading into the playoffs.
Their run was cut short by Magrath, who beat the Cobras in the quarterfinal in two straight sets by 25-23 and 25-15, and then went on to become the provincial champions after defeating École McTavish in the final.
"We knew Magrath [was going] to be a tough game," said Cobras senior boys coach Daniel Hasiuk. "We didn't know anything about McTavish. They were surprisingly strong."
Hasiuk said during their match-up, the Cobras took the first set and then got caught up on some tough serves from McTavish.
"We got stuck on some past rotations and coughed up a few too many points, in bunches," he said. "And all of a sudden, the match was over."
The boys went undefeated in the rest of the round robin to meet Magrath in the playoff quarterfinal.
"That was a tough one," said Hasiuk of the team from southern Alberta. "In the first set, we were up 24-20 and we got a really tough carry call, and we hadn't seen one that match yet.
"Then, all of a sudden, it's 22-21 instead of 24-20. They went of a serving run after that which ended the set."
The Cobras struggled to make up for the setback in the second set, ending their provincial run with a fifth-place finish.
"Overall, I'm really happy with how we played," Hasiuk said. "We played some of our best volleyball this season for sure – above and beyond what I'd seen them play previously."
Hasiuk said it's hard to bid goodbye to the team's Grade 12 players, many of whom he's been coaching since the beginning of their high school volleyball careers.
"We have a really balanced team, and missing any one of those guys would have definitely hurt our performance," he said. "We've got to rebuild for next year. Some of those guys, particularly (team captain) Will Shea, has been with me since 2019 in the varsity program. It's going to be tough not seeing those guys in the gym again next fall."
Alec Shepherd, the team's Grade 12 libero, won an ASAA 3A sportsmanship award pin for his performance throughout the season.
"It isn't just limited to other players or coaches, he's talking to the refs too," said Hasiuk. "He's a very personable guy and is always very respectful to everyone on the court and at the same, pushes himself pretty hard."
The hospitality of Westlock and R.F. Staples who hosted the tournament, was unmatched said Sieben, and she praised all the other schools and sports organizations that have taken measures to allow coaches and players to practice and play safely throughout the season during a pandemic.