Nothing comes easy for the Phoenix Academy Raiders senior high girls’ volleyball team.
On Friday, at the School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador Regional 2A Girls' Volleyball Championships, the Raiders opened the three-team event with back-to-back losses against the host Lakewood Academy Astras of Glenwood, and Riverwood Academy Bulldogs of Gander Bay.
Luckily for the Raiders, the tournament format featured the second- and third-seed teams playing off in a semifinal. The 0-2 Raiders, who finished third, played the 1-1 Astras in the playoff match, and defeated the host team 21-25, 25-19, 15-13 to advance to the gold-medal game against the undefeated Bulldogs.
The final was intense, and both teams were evenly matched, but the Raiders eliminated its slow start by winning the 2A regional banner 25-19, 25-23.
"All three teams were so evenly matched, and it just came down to who was able to get momentum," said Raiders' head coach Brooks Bath after the medal presentations Friday evening. "Teams experienced ups and downs in all five games, and fortunately for us, we were able to find momentum at the right time."
Momentum had something to do with it, but the Raiders had to do more than overcome back-to-back losses in the round robin to win the regional event.
The Raiders finished the round robin with a loss to the Bulldogs, jumped back on the court to defeat the Astras in the semifinal, and without a break, defeated the Bulldogs in the championship match.
The girls were fatigued, but with the banner on the line, they found energy and new life when they needed to most.
"The girls were just so supportive of each other, and the girls on the bench never stopped cheering," said starting setter Stephanie Mouland, whose voice was hoarse from constant yelling at the end of the tournament. "We just kept going, and we were just riding a wave of momentum. We kept trying to encourage each other and pat each other on the back. We'd tell each other we're doing a good job, and we'd try to stay positive."
Staying positive is tough after losing your opening two matches of a regional tournament, but Bath was quick to remind his players of their competition. The largest margin of defeat was a 25-13 game where the Bulldogs defeated the Astras, so Bath knew he had to remind his players that all three teams were pretty equal.
Although they were down, they had a chance to climb back in it - and the Phoenix Academy girls never let that opportunity slip away.
"What I said to the girls after losing to both teams in the round robin was, ‘It's tough to beat two teams twice, especially two awesome teams like Riverwood and Lakewood,'" said Bath. "If we were going to lose, I'd sooner do it in the round robin instead of the playoffs."
While one side celebrated a banner win, the other was left a little disappointed. The Bulldogs counted on a strong hitting game to earn a bye to the gold-medal match, but just couldn't get over the proverbial hump to earn the right to represent the regional at the provincial 2A tournament, scheduled to begin Dec. 8 at Lakewood Academy.
Grade 12 player Megan Steele remained positive after the tough loss, and said the team was ready from the opening serve to compete for the banner.
"We got ourselves motivated," said Steele. "We tried our best, and finished second, which is great. We're going to apply for a wild card position, and hopefully we'll get it."
The Bulldogs also had a unique way of staying positive. While some coaches call a timeout to calm their players and stall a rally, the Bulldogs would call timeout to dance on the sidelines. It was their way of staying loose, and their way of staying positive in the eyes of adversity.
The unique strategy nearly paid off for the Bulldogs, but the Raiders were just a little better in the final game.
For her part, Steele was honoured with the SSNL sportsmanlike medal, which she proudly wore around her neck after the medal presentations.
"It's very, very special," said Steele of the award. "It just shows that I'm doing my best to support the team, and that I'm doing my job as captain."