Anyone who was looking for a barometer on the current popularity of girls volleyball among the city’s high schools needed to be at McRoberts Secondary on Wednesday night.
The host Strikers captured their second straight senior title with a 3-1 win over the Steveston-London Sharks but the highly-entertaining battle was secondary to the atmosphere itself.
A near capacity crowd took in the action and cheered on every point of a match that lasted over two hours.
What volleyball has going for it Richmond is a level of parity that has been created over the years that includes all 11 high schools in the city.
“This was a real (city) championship and it was good,” said longtime McRoberts teacher and coach Trish Nicholson who has volunteered her time since the inception of the all-Richmond leagues back in the mid-1990s.
“It’s a sport where you don’t necessarily have to be gigantic to play and it’s easier to learn. A lot of these girls play club together too,” she said.
The Strikers rolled through regular season play without a loss but were dealt some adversity two weeks ago when Grade 12 standout Olivia Lin went down with a serious injury.
“We had juniors who are now in Grade 11 and she was the piece of the puzzle they needed,” Nicholson continued. “That’s the way our season was going then boom she blows out her knee in a game against McMath. And she just loves the sport and the girls love her too.”
The Sharks have also enjoyed an impressive campaign with their only loss being to McRoberts (3-1) with Lin in the line-up.
There was a good opportunity to knock off the defending champs and that was evident in the opening set as the Strikers squeaked out a 26-24 win. Steveston-London answered with a 25-23 game two win as the teams exchanged points on continuous long rallies.
Finally, the Strikers pulled away midway through game three en route to a 25-17 win. They proceeded to jump out to a big lead in game four too before the Sharks answered with their own rally to pull within 20-17. They would get no closer in a 25-18 defeat.
“For us to win this match without (Olivia) is a big deal for them,” added Nicholson. “We needed some of our other Grade 12s to step up and I thought Jeanna Tang had a great game. So did our core Grade 11s. They had never won at the (younger) levels so this is big for them.”
The Strikers and Sharks now move onto the Lower Mainland “AAA” playoffs next week in North Vancouver.
Crofton House and Little Flower Academy are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the province respectively and are the teams to beat. No. 7 Magee is considered the favourite to land the third berth with the Strikers and Sharks also in contention.