In the near decade that the MEI Eagles senior boys volleyball team has been attending the prestigious Panther International in Spruce Grove, Alta., they’ve never managed to walk away with the title.
That is until this weekend.
Obviously the MEI side (currently ranked first among B.C. AA squads) has been building up some formidable frustration through all those years of foiled dreams, because during the course of the two-day tournament the team compiled eight straight game victories with an astonishing 16-1 set win-to-loss ratio. MEI tore through the 24-team tournament with one purpose, which they accomplished Saturday afternoon while facing the fourth-ranked team in Manitoba, the AAAA Steinbach Secondary Sabres.
The 2014 version of the Panther International Tournament included seven of the top ten AAAA squads in Alberta plus elite teams from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. MEI was the only representative from B.C. on the boys side.
Undersized compared to most of the other squads, the Eagles didn’t enter the tournament as favourites, but their tenacity and defense eventually carried the day.
“Every game felt like a sort of David and Goliath in terms of the size of the teams,” said MEI coach Jordan Geransky, “but we just have a super-skilled group that would grind out wins over and over. It was cool to be able to upset all these teams that weren’t expecting much of us.”
The Eagles faced an additional obstacle in the absence of their key left-side hitter Jordan Loewen, who went down with an injury a week before the tournament. Geransky initially worried that Loewen’s absence would cause his team to mentally throw in the towel, only to watch them adapt perfectly to the loss of their most proficient point-producer.
“Everyone had to contribute,” he said. “With Loewen out of the lineup, it really kind of messed with the way our offence normally runs, so instead our offence was spread throughout the entire lineup. Levi Block…was our kill leader for the tournament, but that’s not a role that he’s normally put in. He’s a libero in club volleyball and is normally a passing player.”
Block had 56 kills over the 17 sets. Teammate Kaden Gamache contributed 47 kills, while libero Keaton Boughen had 26 digs.
In the championship game against Steinbach, MEI took the first set 25-23, before falling behind by nine points in the second. Despite the deficit, the Eagles almost came back to sweep the set, but eventually fell 25-22. In the best-of-three format, the third set is only played to fifteen points, and MEI scraped out the victory 15-11.