Varsity Saints advance to final four
They're off to the final four.
The Portage Collegiate Institute Saints varsity team was able to dispatch the visiting Sturgeon Heights Huskies in three sets at PCI on Thursday evening.
The Saints were able to get traction early off the palm of Tayte Neill, who had five first-set aces, including a run of four aces in five serves, to help the Saints gallop to a 25-8 win in the set.
The Huskies showed why they were a playoff team in the next two sets, but PCI withstood the challenge, winning 25-20 and 25-22 to complete the sweep.
"We knew Sturgeon wasn't a team to take lightly as all," said head coach Rob Gamache. "We know that when they get up, they're a force to be reckoned with, so we were looking to jump off to a lead and we were able to do that and had that momentum the rest of the way through.
"Sturgeon didn't quit — they had a tough first set, but after that, they were neck-and-neck with us for most of it. Our girls had to earn it."
Neill said the ability to get the ball in play while challenging the Huskies was a huge factor in the win.
"It was a serving game, so as soon as we got our serves over, we were doing good," said Neill. "Serving hard to the corners works for me, so I just kept going. As soon as they started missing them there, I kept putting them there."
Gamache praised Neill for the way she was able to keep the Huskies guessing.
"She was on a serving tear," said Gamache. "She was able to mix it up so well. She would serve a deep one on the line and then she would drop one short. She was mixing up between floats and spinners, too, which is really hard for a defence to figure out."
Neill said even though the Saints were able to breeze with ease in the first set, the Saints were prepared for a fight from then on.
"They're a very good team. They scramble very well," said Neill. "We were expecting them to come back, but as long as we stayed positive, we stayed with the game and keep ahead."
Gamache added he knew the quick set would be the exception, and certainly not the rule.
"We were taking it and running, and we weren't taking it for granted because we knew they were going to come back," said Gamache. "In volleyball, once in awhile, you get a set like that where it's down and the momentum, everything seems to be going one way.
"They came out a lot stronger the next two sets and our girls had to step up in the next two sets."
Gamache was thrilled with the fan support at the game, as young volleyball players and other PCI athletes and teachers crammed the west gym. He also was glad to see James Reynolds' drumline out to add some resounding noise to the room.
"I've never sense many of the drumline. They just kept coming up the stairs," said Gamache. "Usually they do a hell of a job with four or five, but today they had 12 or 15. It was awesome.
"Having that noise and support adds something to the momentum of the players, and maybe it's something the other team isn't used to as well."
PCI will now move on to the final four tournament at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate on Tuesday. The third-ranked Saints will face the winner of No. 2 St. Mary's and No. 7 Stonewall.
Gamache expects the Flames, who were 9-1 in the regular season, will emerge as the opponent. Though the Saints will be the underdogs, Gamache thinks there's a way to get into the final.
"They've (The Flames have) had a couple lapses, which is very unlike them, in the last couple weeks," said Gamache. "We're hoping to jump on them at the right time and practice hard until then."