The Gill Memorial Vikings senior high boys’ volleyball team travelled more than 300 kilometres in search of a provincial volleyball banner.
In the end, in the small town of Conne River on the province's south coast, the Vikings proudly raised the banner they travelled so far to get their hands on.
The Vikings travelled to Conne River to compete in the School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial A Boy's Volleyball Championships, Dec. 1-3, and overcame what one player called a slow start to return home to Musgrave Harbour with gold medals hung around their necks.
"Initially, when we first got there, we didn't play too well at all," said hitter Evan Mullett. "We pulled together towards the end, and I think it was probably the best ball I've seen the boys play in my life. It feels amazing."
The Vikings competed in a division against E.A. Butler All-Grade of McKay's, Valmont Academy of King's Point, William Gillett Academy of Charlottetown, and the host team, St. Anne's Setaneway School of Conne River.
In the other division, John Watkins Academy of Hermitage, Bishop White School in Port Rexton, Eric G. Lambert School of Churchill Falls, and Bonne Bay Academy battled to see who would compete for the A banner.
The Vikings didn't take to the court until the sixth game of the tournament, and had little trouble putting away E.A. Butler All-Grade in straight sets, 25-7, 25-8.
However, things quickly turned around in the Vikings' second game against Valmont Academy. The Vikings took the opening set 25-21, but dropped the next two 25-23, 15-10 to lose its first match of the provincial showcase.
In the squad's third game of the tournament against William Gillett Academy, the Vikings were enjoying a comfortable lead, only to watch the opposition claw and fight its way back into the match.
Head coach Blair Hann called a timeout, and that's when things started to turn around for the Vikings, according to Mullett.
"We played William Gillett Academy in our third match, and we were up, but they came back and we started losing," said Mullett. "Our coach called a timeout and said, ‘Boys, you worked hard all year long, and everything we've done has led to this point. Let's not go home without the banner.'"
The Vikings went on to defeat William Gillett Academy, 22-25, 25-23, 15-9, and later defeated the host team from St. Anne's Setaneway School in straight sets, 25-19, 25-13.
With a 3-1 record, the Vikings finished second in its division, and played the first-place team from Eric G. Lambert School, who went undefeated during the round robin. However, the Vikings soared by the opposition 25-16, 25-16 to secure a spot in the final against Bishop White School.
"It was pretty intense," said Mullett of the championship match. "We were up in the beginning, and I even served nine points in a row, but they started to come back to make it close, and it was tied 13-13 in the third set at one point."
With the score close, the Vikings managed to put away its 14th point of the set, and were looking at match point. The Musgrave Harbour-based team managed to dig an attack, and the ball went to the hands of setter Brady Mouland.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"As soon as we got that 14th point everybody was on edge," said Mullett. "We got the ball back from an attack, and our setter, Brady Mouland, set me the ball. I hit it off their block and the ball went out, and everyone went wild."
It was a huge moment in the high school careers of the eight players that make up the Vikings team. Although they competed in the A division, the boys battled many 2A and 3A teams in invitational tournaments all season long.
That top-level competition helped prepare the Vikings for provincials, according to Mullett.
"It definitely helped prepare us for provincials," said Mullett. "You have to be at your best when you play against those 2A and 3A teams, and we were more than prepared when we competed for the A banner."