The Eagles trailed 14-11 in a decisive fifth set in Saturday’s provincial AA final, but with their backs against the wall, and the Lightning on match point, pulled out the incredible 16-14 win on their home floor.
The victory marks the second straight year the MEI senior girls team has earned provincial gold.
The see-saw battle saw the Eagles win a marathon opening set 31-29, again coming back after falling behind 15-7 at one point. The Lightning battled back to win set two 25-22, but the Eagles retook the lead in set three with a 27-25 win.
LCS dominated in the fourth set, winning 25-10 to send the game to the fifth.
Eagles head coach Kara David said home court advantage helped, but the girls’ belief in themselves and team chemistry earned the victory.
“The girls really believed in themselves and had a ton of support,” she said. “I think they were excited and honoured to host, and the crowd made a huge difference.They just didn’t really feel much pressure, even when we were down.”
The team was made up of seven Grade 12 and seven Grade 11 students.
Davis said the Grade 12 students have been playing on the same team since Grade 6, and to repeat as provincial champions on their home court is a fitting end to their high school careers.
MEI’s Janelle Loewen was named tournament most valuable player, while Karissa Marazzi was named top libero. Eagles players Ashley Huberts and Kayla Janzen were named to the tournament’s first and second team all-star squads respectively.
“Karissa is just our rock out there and Ashley peaked when she had to – she killed three important balls for us at the end of the game,” she said.
Davis said even when the team was in dire straits, they remained calm on the bench and on the floor.
“We really got beat down in that fourth set but it didn’t seem to faze the girls much at all,” she said.
“We were prepared for a fifth set and it was almost like they wanted to play that last set. It was such good volleyball by both teams out there tonight.”
MEI cruised through the pool play, winning all six sets. They only lost one set in the playoffs before dropping two against the Lightning.
Davis said several of her graduating players will likely go on to post-secondary volleyball teams next fall.
Meanwhile, the Eagles senior boys team picked up AA bronze in Langley on Saturday.
MEI extended its AA medal streak to 15 years after defeating top seed and Fraser Valley rival Pacific Academy in five (25-21, 13-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-11).
The Eagles did it with an eight-point closing run, and got a big contribution from last year’s most valuable player at the tournament Colton Loewen.
MEI had previously won gold in 2014 and 2015.
At times, Loewen and Pacific Academy star Nate Teasdale exchanged great hits, one better than the next.
“We put three guys back digging,” said MEI coach Brad Knodel. “We hoped he [Teasdale] had to make decisions and that we could force him into a wrong decision.”
That didn’t happen much, but the Eagles had Loewen, who almost always took a swing when he had a chance, moving into better hitting positions while in the air.
“He has more control of his body than anyone I’ve seen,” Knodel said.
MEI provided Loewen a little help.
Libero Matt Kornelsen “saved some key points,” Knodel said, “and Carson Bargen, when he had to step up, did. It was a team effort.”
Loewen and Bargen were both named tournament first team all-stars.
The boys placed third in their pool during the opening round, and then caught fire in the playoffs, falling to eventual champion LCS in the AA semi-final.
The tournament caps off an excellent high school volleyball career for Grade 12 students Loewen, Bargen, Josh Willems, Dylan Neudorf, Lynden Knodel, Brendan Loewen and Matthew Kornelson.
Loewen has committed to play volleyball next year at Trinity Western University in Langley, where he will join MEI grads Kaden Gamache, Jordan Koslowsky, and Ben Lieuwen.