The Springbank Phoenix made history Nov. 24, when it captured the school’s first-ever senior girls’ volleyball provincial championship.
After coasting to the Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) banner with an unbeaten record and finishing second at the South Central Zones 3A tournament Nov. 16, the team concluded its stellar 2019 campaign by coming out on top at the Alberta Schools Athletic Association’s 3A championships in St. Paul. Springbank won eight of its nine matches to earn the provincial banner.
“It was a crazy feeling,” said senior outside hitter Grace Coulter. “We knew we had the team to do it, but after our loss at zones, we kind of folded a bit.
“We still had the hope, but we needed everyone to have the hope, and in some games, it didn’t feel like we all did. But, somehow, we all came together in those three matches leading up the final.”
Provincials didn’t get off to a great start, as Springbank lost its opening match to Edmonton Christian in three sets. The Phoenix rebounded from the setback, however, with victories in its next four matches to claim second place in its pool, booking a quarterfinal battle against Medicine Hat’s Crescent Heights Vikings.
After losing the first set, head coach Al Coulter said, the Phoenix battled back to win the ensuing two.
“We had to come from behind to win and get to the semis, where we played the team that was expected to win provincials – Peace Wapiti Academy, from Grande Prairie,” he said.
Peace Wapiti, which had not lost a single set en route to the semis, showed why it was a championship contender by convincingly winning the first set, 25-15.
“They crushed us,” Al said. “We thought, ‘Oh boy, we’re done.’”
But in a show of resilience, the Phoenix stayed in the match with an impressive performance on defence, winning the second set 25-16 to force a third.
“We started digging their big power hitter and started picking our way back into it,” Al said. “We ended up coming back and beating them 15-13 in the third to get into the final.”
The gold-medal battle was a rematch with Edmonton Christian – another unbeaten opponent.
The Edmontonians won the first set 25-21 before Springbank won the second by the same score line to force a third set.
With the championship up for grabs, Springbank won the deciding set 15-11 and secured the provincial banner.
“Even at the start of the year, knowing what our team looked like, we gave ourselves a high expectation, and I think we reached that,” said Sarah Zonneveld, the team’s Grade-11 setter.
A loss in the gold-medal match at zones meant the Phoenix came into provincials ranked ninth, and after the opening-match defeat to Edmonton Christian, Al said winning the provincial championship was an example of the team’s perseverance.
“It sure wasn’t easy – we did it the hard way,” he said.