A deeper battle encompassed the competition on the court at the senior boys ‘A’ volleyball provincials here in Terrace Nov. 24-26.
Though they lost in the finals, the Seahawks from Centennial Christian School deepened their character and secured a victory as a team in responding to the injury of an unexpected mishap.
Their captain and top player, Evan Veldman, sprained his ankle coming off of a spike early in the championship, and yet the Seahawks were able to come together and battle their way to silver.
“A hit like that could have completely derailed them as a team. It’s one of those emotional things,” said coach Wes Holubowski. “But the team rallied around Ev and played really well.”
Vying for a spot with B.C.’s best 12 ‘A’ teams, Centennial Seahawks won all three of their early round robin games.
In their fourth game playing Friday morning against Vernon Christian, Veldman slammed a kill but then landed awkwardly against the pads around the net pole and twisted his ankle.
Not only was he a key leader in terms of skill, but Veldman occupied a central position as an alternating setter and outside hitter with Levi Ewald in a game format known as 6-2.
The Seahawks adjusted while Veldman was off, beating the young Vernon team but then losing to fourth-placed Credo Christian.
They went on to triumph over Bulkley Valley Christian from Smithers in an intense quarter-final match, with Veldman choosing to play through his sprain.
Next was the semi-final match against Richmond, a tough team who played a tight game.
The Seahawks claimed the first two sets, lost the third, and then won the fourth to seize a spot in the finals.
Holubowski said it was his highlight of the weekend.
“The team rallied around Ev and carried him through that semi-final game,” he said. “Even though Evan wasn’t playing at 100 per cent… they supported him. When he was hurting, they were able to go to other players to give him a break.”
Holubowski says that Lucas Mantel played a huge game and both he and Levi Ewald were executing attacks with power and precision.
Liam Clunas was another mighty force, digging huge spikes and setting up many key plays.
“Everybody really stepped up,” said Holubowski. “Whereas a lot of games [in the earlier season], we rely on Evan when we’re down and we get him to carry us out of some tough spots, this was the opposite, where the team carried him.”
But Holubowski says he was also impressed with Veldman and how he dealt with his injury and fought through it to play with his team.
“His ability to gut it out and push through that, and still be able to play at a very high level was impressive to me,” Holubowski said, acknowledging that playing on an injury is rarely wise.
He added that there is definite risk but it’s less severe with a sprained ankle, wrapped well.
With the choice before him, Veldman opted to play. It was the final championship of his Grade 12 year after all.
Kristine Ewald said that for her as a coach, the Richmond game was particularly tough, as Veldman’s ankle had swelled and stiffened overnight. Though he didn’t start, he substituted in fairly early on and played most of the game.
“It was kind of an emotional game for me,” Ewald said. “As a mother it was hard to watch Evan play on his injury.”
After conquering Richmond, the Seahawks faced Kelowna in the finals.
Kelowna won the first set and Centennial seized the second, but then Kelowna went on a run, executing several key blocks and cutting off Seahawk attacks.
They claimed the next two sets to win gold, and Centennial took silver.
Ewald said she was proud of the Seahawks playing and their attitude.
“The guys rallied and did so well for the circumstances they were given,” she said, adding that they displayed great sportsmanship within the loss.
“They had great attitudes and, to me, that’s a huge part of being a competitor,” she said.
Veldman and Lucas Mantel were awarded provincial first all-star awards, and Liam Clunas received a second team all-star.
Coaches added that Grade 9 players Jacob Ringma and Ben Mantel did extremely well, conquering nerves and significant pressure as they were thrown into the top-level volleyball.
Overall, Holubowski says it was a great weekend, with fierce competition, massive crowds, and all the provincial teams setting a positive, friendly atmosphere.