The Mennonite Educational Institute senior boys volleyball team won the latest clash in one of the great rivalries in B.C. high school sports, edging the Langley Christian Lightning in the Fraser Valley AA championship game last Friday.
It was an electric atmosphere at MEI, with half of the packed gym rooting for the No. 2-ranked Eagles and the other half having made the trip from Langley to support the No. 1-ranked Lightning. MEI ultimately prevailed in four tough sets.
Eagles left side Jeremy Lieuwen earned tournament MVP honours, while his younger brother Ben and setter Caleb Conrad were named to the all-star team.
“We performed really well,” MEI head coach Jeff Stel said. “Caleb set a very good game – he distributed the ball evenly throughout, and when it mattered, our big players made big plays. We were able to kind of control the match that way.”
In recent years, epic battles between highly ranked MEI and LCS squads have become a rite of fall.
The rivalry’s most memorable moment came in 2007, when MEI upset an undefeated LCS squad in the provincial title game. The next two years, the Eagles beat the Lightning in the B.C. semis.
This season, the two teams split their regular season match-ups – Langley Christian winning in mid-October, and MEI prevailing on Nov. 9. Both of those games were five-set thrillers, and it stands to reason that another chapter in the feud will be written at the provincial championships, which run Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 at UBC-Okanagan in Kelowna. MEI will be the No. 1 seed, Langley Christian No. 2.
Making the rivalry particularly delicious these days is the fact that Stel, the Eagles’ head coach the past two years, is a Langley Christian grad, class of 2001.
“It’s an old rivalry, and it was just kind of starting back then – we (LCS) were a fairly new school at that point, and MEI wasn’t as focused on volleyball as they are now,” Stel recalled. “For years now, we’ve both been powerhouse volleyball schools, and you always know you have to play your A game to beat them.
“There’s always that desire to play well and coach well against your old high school.”
The Eagles had opened the Fraser Valleys with a three-set win over Abbotsford Christian in the semifinals last Thursday. The Knights rebounded from that defeat to knock off Surrey Christian in four sets in the bronze medal game and claim the Valley’s third and final provincial berth, and middle Trevor Dykshoorn was named to the tournament all-star team. Abby Christian will be seeded No. 5 at the B.C.’s.
“The boys are prepared, and they’ve worked hard this season,” said Knights coach Anthonie Jansen. “Our goal (at provincials) is to play consistently and reward our strong play this season with a good finish.”