Upsetting last year’s champions, Centennial Christian School’s senior volleyball erupted into shouts of victory as the ball hit the ground, securing their win.
“It was awesome!” said coach Jesiah Bartley. “The guys played unbelievable… They were having so much fun the entire time. That’s what brought us to the next level. Our guys always play the best when they are smiling and having a good time.”
Centennial was the smallest school competing at ‘A’ provincials in Abbotsford on Nov. 26-28. Tournament organizer Vince Van Dyk said the quality volleyball program at Centennial is very impressive in light of their size, with only 15 boys in grades 11 and 12.
The finals matched Centennial against Abbotsford Christian School, the host team who had beat them in finals last year, and Bartley said the boys were a bit nervous going in, but also excited, focused and ready to play.
They came out strong in the first set, and Bartley said he could see their faces change as they realized they had a shot at the win.
After they won that set, Abbotsford came back and beat them in the second. Bartley said the loss deflated Centennial a bit, but the mental toughness they have been developing came through.
The third set was very close and intense, but Centennial edged out the win, and then rode that momentum to claim the fourth set and earn the tournament victory.
Coaches Bartley and Kristine Ewald said it was a huge team effort, with every player making significant contributions.
Tournament MVP was awarded to Centennial’s Evan Veldman for his skill and leadership. Van Dyk, Abbotsford organizer, said Veldman “led his team with his tremendous all-around play… He can do it all—pass, serve, hit, block and he is their emotional leader.”
Bartley adds that as setter, Van Dyk makes very good, very smart plays. Several times after Veldman made a kill or a serve, the stands erupted in MVP chants.
“It was pretty cool to see the other players and the fans recognize the amount of skill that he brought to the floor,” Bartley said. “He was playing unbelievable. He was hitting the ball harder than I have ever seen him hit.”
The first team all-star went to Lucas Mantel, Centennial’s left-handed hitter on the right side who Bartley said is another all-around strong player.
“He was just solid all tournament… he’ll pass, he’ll set, he’ll hit, he’ll just make smart plays and he’s always got a lot of energy… His blocking as well, it was just huge for us.”
Coach Kristine Ewald said that was one key that really pumped up the team, when Centennial shut down opposing kills with blocks.
“Blocks can really turn around the game… they really excite the guys,” Ewald said, adding that there were several key moments where blocks ignited team momentum. Middle players Liam Clunas and Markus Behnke were key in this. Bartley said they made a huge difference for the team, blocking players a lot bigger than themselves and bringing great energy to the team.
He adds that another edge Centennial had was having three left-handed players spiking from the right side. “That was a huge weapon for us, we had strong attacks from both sides of the floor,” he said.
Libero Lindsay Ewald was the only girl in the tournament, playing with the senior boys because there was no senior girls team at Centennial. She says being the only girl is not a big deal for her.
“I have never felt out of place at any tournament, and this is mostly because of how great the guys on my team are. I have known almost all of the boys since birth… Despite the fact that at times they can be very stinky, annoying, and protective, I still love all of them… we look out for each other and always seem to have fun,” she said.
Yet she admits that she was extremely nervous at the beginning.
“It doesn’t help having many teenage boys watching and judging,” she said. “But once the game starts, I leave all this behind me and just focus on the game. After getting a few digs, and passes I feel settled, and the other teams stop questioning why I play with the boys.”
Bartley said her passing was a crucial, giving the foundation for the team to launch constant attacks.
“She was by far the best passer in the whole tournament,” he said.
The stands pumped tremendous energy into the final game, and many were impressed by the cheering support for Centennial, despite facing the Abbotsford home team.
Bartley said nearly all the other teams in provincials were cheering for them, with many new friends from the weekend, and it really boosted the energy of the team.
“It felt like a home gym for us,” he said.
Lindsay added that the team confidence got down at times, but then cheering “kicked in and droned out the Abbotsford home fans.”
“This really boosted my energy, confidence, and, in my opinion, led us to play even better,” she said. “I think that the fans were a huge part of our victory.”
She says she is very grateful for the coaches.
“While they coach us in volleyball, they also coach us in our character, and I don’t think they realize how much we look up to them as role models,” she said.
Centennial played five round robin games in the tournament, winning every set in the first four against teams from Fernie, Duncan, Bernaby and Kelowna.
They lost their fifth round robin game in two sets to Abbotsford, and Bartley says it was partly because of nerves. But the loss “put a fire in them to really come out strong in the finals,” Bartley said.
Centennial faced Vernon in the quarter final, losing their first set 19-25 but coming back to win three straight sets 25-19, 28-26, and 25-23.
The semi final pit Centennial against Credo from Langley, where they battled through some very intense and sets, winning the first set 31-29, and losing the second 25-27. They won the third set 25-12, and the fourth 25-21.
This is Centennial’s first provincial banner and their volleyball team has climbed at provincials for the last four years, ranking 5th, 3rd, 2nd and now 1st.
“We as coaches have pushed our kids to play volleyball at a high level but play with humility,” Bartley said. “I was so proud to see these kids do exactly that.”