The McRoberts Strikers find themselves in unfamiliar territory in more ways than one.
Not only are the defending Richmond senior girls volleyball champions part of the new South Fraser Zone, they are the clear team to beat. That’s stark contrast to recent years when they usually had Vancouver private school powerhouses Little Flower Academy and Crofton House standing in their way when it came time for the Lower Mainland AAA playoffs.
Thanks to B.C. School Sports adding zones to Greater Vancouver this year, Richmond is now grouped with Surrey and Delta. The AAA tier doesn’t offer much in the way of competition for this season at least.
The top Surrey public schools all play in the largest tier (AAAA) while the perennial private school powerhouses are at the AA level. A dip in enrolment at McRoberts nearly put the Strikers in AA tier which would have meant another dogfight for a provincial berth.
A year ago, they lost out at a seven-team provincial AAA wild card tourney.
“I like exactly where we are,” smiled longtime McRoberts teacher and volunteer coach Trish Nicholson. “It seems like everyone (in South Fraser) is AAAA or AA and they are the top dogs. When I looked at the provincial rankings I wondered how could we be seven and there is no (other South Fraser team) underneath us either.”
In total, the South Fraser Zone features 14 AAA schools of which five have opted to play tier two in the regular season. The Strikers’ biggest challenge will likely come from city rivals McMath and Steveston-London when it comes time for zone playoffs.
McRoberts defeated Steveston-London 3-0 at the “Shark Tank” last week in a rematch of last year’s city final. The hosts were poised to even the match when the Strikers rallied from an 18-24 deficit to take game two and then coasted to the sweep.
Nicholson again has a roster loaded with volleyball first student athletes that also play at the club or academy level.
“We had decent Grade 11s who are now seasoned Grade 12s. We also have a Grade 11 (Taryn Hill) who is strong and can play in all different spots and we didn’t have that last year after (standout Olivia Lin) blew out her knee,” she explained.
“We can play her over there or here, depending where we need her the most. That helps. They are also more confident now that they are older.”
The South Fraser Volleyball Commission has set up a “Premier League” that is loaded with provincially ranked AAAA and AA schools. The Strikers took a pass on what would have been extensive travel schedule to Surrey and Delta for regular season play.
Instead, they will rely on tournaments to prepare them for the post-season. They have already participated at three tourneys and also will be in Kelowna and Semiahmoo.