Another trip to provincials is up next for Cochrane High School's two senior volleyball teams, who both won their respective zones championships this past weekend.
The Cobras senior girls' team dominated the South Central Zones 3A tournament on their home court Nov. 18 and 19, while the senior boys' team also won their 3A zones tourney, in Strathmore. The banner victories mean the two teams will advance to the 3A provincial championships in Lethbridge later this week.
Cochrane High's junior varsity boys' and girls' teams also tasted gold-medal success in their respective zones tournaments to finish off the JV season.
Esther Sieben, who coaches Cochrane's senior girls' volleyball team, said the zones tourney produced her squad's best performances yet this season. The Cobras swept all four of their zones opponents en route to lifting yet another South Central Zones banner.
“It looks like they’re finally gelling and people are settling into their roles on the team,” Sieben said. “We didn’t even lose a set, actually, all weekend. It was a very strong performance.
“Every team we saw, we beat them two-straight, so it was a good tournament for them. The girls are getting used to being side-by-side on the court and they’re playing really well.”
As Sieben predicted before the tournament, Cochrane's opponent in the final was their divisional rival, the Springbank Phoenix. Springbank ousted a team from Olds in the semi-finals to take on the Cobras Nov. 19. The Cobras, meanwhile, took down the George McDougall Mustangs to book their own berth in the final.
According to Sieben, the strength of the Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) was highlighted by the fact all three podium-placing teams – Cochrane, Springbank, and George McDougall – represented the division. The long-time coach attributed the RVSA's strong showing to the schools' ability to coach Grade 9 players in their junior varsity teams.
“Not all schools believe in middle-school philosophy, but the fact is we get a lot of our 9s and they see what our junior program looks like. And that translates to some strong volleyball players in our senior program,” she said.
The girls' upcoming 3A provincial tournament will kick off Nov. 23 at Winston Churchill High School in Lethbridge and last until Nov. 26.
Sieben said she is anticipating plenty of volleyball in the coming days, as the Cobras will play a minimum of six matches – but she is hoping they play eight.
“You have five pool play games, then a quarterfinal, a semi-final, and then a final,” she explained. “It translates to a long tournament. You’re going to have to utilize every person on your team. Luckily enough, we have 14 very strong, very capable players who can be put on the court at any time in any role. They’re quite versatile.”
Taking to the court in Cobra crimson for the last time in their high-school careers, Cochrane's six Grade 12 players will likely have vengeance on their minds, Sieben noted. The six seniors were on the Cobras' senior girls' team last year, when they lost a nail-biter 16-14 in the provincial gold-medal final.
“It was a heartbreak of a loss,” Sieben recalled, adding a key Cobras player was injured in one of the last rallies, which shook the team for the final few points.
“There were a lot of tears shed. But there was also a lot of learning and growth that happened from that situation," she said. "Those six girls who were there last year in Grade 11, they remember and know how hard you have to work to get to a provincial championship. I’m hoping their maturity and strength…will give us a shot at possibly being in the top four.
“We’ll have to wait and see but I have a lot of faith in the versatility and depth of these 14 girls. Let’s hope we’ve taught them enough to come out on top.”
Boys advance to provincials
While their own path to the South Central Zones final had a few more twists and turns than the girls' route did, the Cobras senior boys' volleyball team also produced another banner for the wall of Cochrane High School's gymnasium on Nov. 19.
Head coach Daniel Hasiuk said the Cobras battled adversity in the form of multiple injuries to starting players.
“We put in a mix of players, trying to rest the guys who were a bit more hurt," he said. "That backfired on us a little bit, but we still ended up placing second in the round robin."
After finishing second in their pool, Cochrane rallied to beat the George McDougall Mustangs in the semi-finals and then the host Strathmore Spartans in the gold-medal match.
"We put [the Mustangs away in two, pretty handily," he said. "We put in the starters from the beginning of the season, even though they were a little bit banged up.”
The win over George McDougall was followed by a strong showing in the gold-medal match.
“We played a really good final," Hasiuk said. “Our blocking was really good. [Strathmore] had no clean attacks – we managed to touch everything and seemed to put everything back to them, whether it was our blocking or our defence picking the ball up in the back court.
“Our serving was strong, which meant their passing struggled and their setter struggled to get anything to his outside attacks. It worked out to be a strong finish. I felt we had momentum the whole way through.”
The senior boys' 3A provincial tournament will also be in Lethbridge this week, and Hasiuk said the players are optimistic about their chances. He noted Magrath High School was a previous tournament favourite, but has since declared intentions to play in the 4A provincials this fall instead.
“If we play our best ball, I think we have as good a chance as anybody at winning provincials," Hasiuk said.